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Black millennials report more police mistreatment

posted on Nov 5, 2015

More than half of black millennials in the U.S. say they or someone they know has been harassed or treated violently by police, a far larger number than their white or Latino peers, according to research findings released Wednesday.

“Black Millennials in America,” a report by the Black Youth Project at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of Chicago, assembled surveys and government statistics over more than a decade to paint a dire portrait of African-American men and women between 18 and 34 years old when compared with their peers in other racial groups.

In general, blacks were more likely to be poorer and unemployed and said they faced a greater possibility of gun-related violence and discrimination than those in other groups, according to the report, based on survey data and government statistics.

Authors Cathy Cohen and Jon Rogowski said they hoped the report would spread knowledge of the real-life experience of young blacks, giving a voice to their difficulties.

Cohen is chairwoman of the University of Chicago’s political science department and leader of the Black Youth Project; Rogowski is an assistant political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

“We hope the data and findings in this report will contribute to a call for action to bring about change rooted in the ways black millennials experience contemporary America,” they wrote.

Among the study’s key findings are the starkly different views of blacks when compared with other millennials on issues including policing, guns, the legal system and violence. The nation has reeled in recent years from riots and protests after high-profile deaths including those of Trayvon Martin in Florida, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

Those deaths helped spawn the Black Lives Matter movement, which picked up steam and legitimacy with the help of social media. It has become its own political force, touching the race for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, which generally supports criminal justice reform and gun control.

In a 2009 Mobilization and Change Survey done by the Black Youth Project and cited in the report, 54.4 percent of black millennials answered yes to the question: “Have you or anyone you know experienced harassment or violence at the hands of the police?” About one-third of whites, 32.8 percent, and about one-quarter of Latinos, 24.8 percent, said yes to the same question.

Blacks were also far less likely to trust police, 44.2 percent, compared with 71.5 percent of whites and 59.6 percent of Latinos. Blacks were least likely to believe neighborhood police were there for protection. About two-thirds, or 66.1 percent, of black millennials agreed that cops were in the neighborhood for protection, compared with 80.3 percent of whites and 74.4 percent of Latinos.

Gun violence continued to be a concern as well.

Just over a fifth, 22 percent, of black millennials interviewed in 2013 said they or someone they knew had been the victim of gun violence in the last year. That compared with 14 percent of Latino millennials and 8 percent of whites.

Yet the same survey, called the Black Youth Project Quarterly Survey, found that 24 percent of blacks and 22 percent of Latino millennials said they or someone they knew “carried a gun in the last month.” Almost half of white millennials — 46 percent — said they knew of someone who carried a gun.

Black millennials were the most pessimistic about the American legal system. Just 26.8 percent agreed with the statement: “The American legal system treats all groups fairly,” according to a 2014 Black Youth Project survey in the report.

More than a third of other young U.S. residents — 41 percent of whites, 36.7 percent of Latinos — agreed that everyone gets treated fairly by the legal system.

The disparity among the groups was also measured in government data. For example, in the second quarter of 2015, unemployment among a segment of black millennials was substantially higher: 16.6 percent of blacks between 20 and 24 said they were unemployed, compared with 10.3 percent of Latinos and 8.5 percent of whites.

In 2013, 32 percent of blacks 18 to 24 years old lived below the poverty line, compared with 17 percent of white youth and 21 percent of Latino youth, according to government data cited in the report.