A majority of Minnesotans say that the criminal justice system doesn’t treat Black and white people equally and that George Floyd’s death was a sign of broader problems in policing, according to the newly released MPR News/Star Tribune/KARE-11 Minnesota Poll.
But the poll also showed Minnesotans sharply divided on issues of policing and race, largely on the basis of whether they support President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden for president. The responses also reveal fault lines across race, age and geography.
George Floyd was killed on May 25 in south Minneapolis after he was restrained by police officers and Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for about eight minutes. His death sparked a worldwide reckoning on race and efforts to overhaul law enforcement in this country.
Just 36 percent of statewide residents surveyed thought Floyd’s death was an isolated incident, while more than half said it was part of broader problems in how Minneapolis police treat Black people.
Fernando Almeida of Minnetonka grew up in Brazil and describes himself as Black and Latino. Almeida said he never encountered problems with people over his race until he bought a house in Minnesota, and a neighbor made a reference to a favela, the low-income neighborhoods in Brazil.
”I never had problems in places like New York, Florida and Illinois,” said Almeida, who is a project manager for a health care company. “We have a serious problem in this country, for sure.”
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People in the Twin Cities, Democrats, people of color and younger voters were more likely to see Floyd’s death as part of a broader problem. Derek Landseidel, a 29-year-old teacher from Minneapolis, said there’s a clear pattern in this country of disregarding the value of Black people’s lives.
“If all lives matter, you should be able to stay Black lives matter,” said Landseidel, who is white. “But maybe because people have such a hard time saying it, it’s an acknowledgement that there is a problem, that it does indeed need to be said.”
He said it seems like police officers haven’t seemed very receptive to public feedback.
“Police officers have a really difficult job, but part of that job is listening to the people you serve,” Landseidel said. “People get really upset when they’re not heard.”
In Hibbing, Jodi Olson, who is white and supports Trump, has a different take. He believes that what happened to Floyd was a “somewhat isolated incident.”
“I’m not knocking any race by any means, but when something happens to a white person, you don’t normally hear about it as much as if it happens to someone of color,” Olson said.
About 56 percent of those polled said the criminal justice system doesn’t treat Black and white people equally. People in northern Minnesota were least likely to agree with that statement.
Jeffrey Priest of Cottage Grove said it’s been clear to him since Rodney King was assaulted by Los Angeles police officers in 1991 that Black people aren’t treated equally by police or the criminal justice system. But he said neither major political party seems to have made much progress on the issue of police accountability.
“When there’s an incident like this where the police are more heavy-handed, it just seems like there’s a lot of talk around it, there’s a lot of chatter around it, there’s a lot of politics around it, and nothing ever changes,” Priest said.
Priest, who sells firearms for a living, is trying to decide whether to support Trump or the Libertarian Party candidate for president. He said he wishes Trump would show more restraint, but sees some of his more outrageous statements as “showmanship.”
Floyd’s killing sparked protests and eventually riots and looting in the Twin Cities, which damaged hundreds of buildings and spurred Gov. Tim Walz to call out the National Guard.
A majority of respondents said that civilian violence against people and property in U.S. cities was a bigger problem than police violence against Black people. About 94 percent of Trump supporters said violence against property and people by civilians was a bigger problem.
Chick Molitor, who is 69 and lives in Stearns County, said it’s pretty clear to most people that George Floyd shouldn’t have died. While he understands people’s anger and supports the Black Lives Matter movement, Molitor thinks that riots and arsons in the Twin Cities may have distracted some of his neighbors from the issue of police accountability.
“It’s pretty obvious that when you see buildings being destroyed, the looting and that, I think it made people a little more comfortable with their judgment that we need to support the police,” Molitor said. “It just gave them that little piece of comfort they needed to justify what I think they know is wrong.”
A little more than three quarters of Biden supporters who were polled said they had a favorable impression of the Black Lives Matter movement, while 92 percent of Trump supporters opposed it, a share that is higher than the 80 percent of self-identified Republicans who disapprove of the movement.
Olson, the 52-year-old Hibbing man, said Floyd obviously shouldn’t have died, but that rioting made matters worse.
“Destroying four or five or eight or however many city blocks of Minneapolis, and ruining people’s livelihoods for the rest of their lives and putting them out of business, and not just in Minneapolis but all over the country — that could be as big a tragedy as any of it,” Olson said.
Almeida, 52, said he believes that Trump and his political allies have falsely maligned the Black Lives Matter movement.
”It’s amazing how they are trying to make this movement something totally different than what it is,” Almeida said.
The poll by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy included 800 registered voters from across the state last week and had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.