People are looking toward their authority figures for help in tumultuous times
In 1967, a Gallup poll spun the yarn that 77 percent of Americans had a “great deal” of respect for law enforcement. For context, let’s run through how turbulent a year that was:
Detroit erupted in the worst riots in the nation’s history, fundamentally changing the course of that city’s urban landscape. More than 40 souls lost their lives during those dark days. The riots then spread to Atlanta, Cincinnati, Tampa and three different cities in New Jersey.
Thurgood Marshall took his seat on the Supreme Court.
Cassius Clay was stripped of his heavyweight title.
This “long hot summer” coincided with the 1967’s “Summer of Love,” where the hippies took the ecclesiastical fervor of the Beats and started to party really hard. The Mama’s & The Papa’s released “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair).” You know where Snapchat got the idea for their crown-of-flowers filter that millennials have transformed into a symbol that exudes freedom and whimsy? It’s this song, written by John Phillips, produced by Lou Adler, and sung by John McKenzie. That very song was a promotion for the Monterey Music Festival, a festival where a young Jimi Hendrix, recently back in the states from sculpting his legendary act in the United Kingdom, lit his guitar on fire and commanded it to consume like a vodou priest.
It’s safe to say a lot was going on in the country. And with all that flux, the police were lauded more than they would be until this very year.
Move 48 years forward to 2015, the same Gallup poll revealed that confidence in America’s police was at a historical low. This is an important point. This is a tale of two polls.
One poll asks if Americans have confidence in the police as an institution. The other asks if Americans respect police as law enforcement. The number for police as an institution in 2015 hovered at 52 percent. As far as respect goes, that number was at 64 percent. The last time the institution number was that low, though, was 1993, when four white police officers beat Rodney King to a bloody pulp on a barren roadway in Los Angeles. And Gallup surmises the grainy tape of officers huddled around King, curled in the fetal position with baton blows raining down had something do with it.
Similarly, 2015 seemed pregnant with strife. Ferguson, Missouri, was up in arms over the shooting of Michael Brown. Eric Garner was strangled to death in Staten Island, New York. His death sparked a wave of street protests by a new group called Black Lives Matter. Walter Scott turned and tried to run from a cop for the last time in his life in North Charleston, South Carolina. All of these incidents were caught on tape and horrified a nation that hoped a post-racial America was within its grasp.
The transition has proved difficult. In this, the final year of Obama’s presidency, the country seems more in flux than ever. In his piece for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke on the near certitude of anti-police violence. This after several officers in Dallas were murdered by rogue gunman Micah Johnson. The backlash from the police community was swift: This is what you get when you undermine the authority of police officers. Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, came out and straight up said Obama was the cause of the anger, telling reporters at the time:
“Without any foundation, he talked about racism and disparate treatment and people of color—all this nonsense. Like I said, he’s armed with powerful words and he uses those words irresponsibly. It fuels this sort of anger towards the American police officer. I wish he’d knock it off.”
It was his lack of a strong defense of the police that correlated in a horrific act of political extremism. Wrestle with that logic, as I do, and you come smack-dab in front of a wall. The police as an institution are a “force” said Coates. And it is their use of force that defines them for those of us who wilt under their gaze.
For many, police are the representation of the state itself. And for that reason, when you get low Gallup poll numbers of the cops en masse, you can bet your lunch money that liberals are the ones weighing the ratings down.
Regarding the police, polls of blacks in regards to how they feel about that institution have historically hovered around 30 percent. It’s no wonder why. The relationship between blacks and the police seem to be eternally wrecked. And this is what makes 2016’s poll number so interesting, 76 percent of the country has a “great deal” of respect for the cops again—despite the continued turmoil of an election year and despite the fact that half the country had been distrustful of the police as a body the year before. That aspect, married to the notion that blacks are mostly Democrats, makes this number extremely puzzling.
Americans continue to suffer the certainty of social change, climate change, economic uncertainty, and the shifting demographics of the nation’s population. We look backward in shock at how we’ve gotten here and look forward with dread. Whoever wins this election will face problems so complex that it’s difficult to figure where to begin, let alone how to begin. And all this turmoil is resulting in strange happenings, save one: People are looking toward their authority figures to help figure this out for us. The blanket of trust we ascribe to people we look to for protection is being pulled as tightly now as it has in Gallup poll history.
There’s one more poll that may be important to examine to explain just why folks are respecting our officers a ton right now. In April 2016, Gallop ran the results of its poll wherein the question was, “How much do you personally worry about crime and violence?” The result was that 53 percent of Americans worried “a great deal’ about crime, marking a 15-year high. During those same 15 years, both violent crime rates and murder rates have trended significantly downward. So not only are Americans scared of crimes that have decreased in the last 15 years, but they are looking for the police to protect them from these boogie men. Go figure.