White American youth are supportive of Black Lives Matter, the widespread protest movement focused on ending police violence against African-Americans — but only to a fault, according to a nuanced look at attitudes toward police violence across racial groups.
The new poll was conducted by Black Youth Project — a youth organizing group that's housed at the University of Chicago, and GenForward — a majority of youth of all races, including whites (51%) said they support Black Lives Matter. But a majority of white youth also believe that Black Lives Matter's "rhetoric encourages violence against police."
The poll also uncovered the deep racial divide in perceptions of police violence in the United States. The poll, which included responses from 1,908 young people between the ages of 18 and 30, found that 91% of African-American youth believe that police violence is an extremely serious problem in America, compared to 71% of Latinos, 63% of Asian-Americans and only 43% of whites.
Notably, white youth polled said they believed violence against police officers was a more serious problem than violence doled out by police.
The poll, which is conducted monthly, has tracked the varied support for Black Lives Matter generally, and the issue of police violence specifically. In July, for instance, only 41% of white youth polled voiced support for Black Lives Matter compared to 84% of black youth.
In an interview with Mic, Cathy Cohen, a professor of politics at the University of Chicago and principal investigator with the Black Youth Project, described white youth support of Black Lives Matter as "tepid," but also said that such a response was easier to understand when looking at the context of the movement.
Young white people are "visibly shaken by the killings," said Cohen, of young black men like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, whose deaths gained widespread attention in part because they were caught on video. "They have more and more evidence that these are not isolated incidents, but patterns of police brutality that they can't ignore anymore," Cohen told Mic.
But Cohen also said that these young white people are more nuanced than they're often given credit for. "They grow up in a society that says you can count on police, [so] it's not surprising that young whites in particular are struggling with wanting to support this movement because they're seeing the killings of black people, but also hearing from stakeholders like politicians and the media that this movement is causing violence against police."