More white millennials Americans are getting on board with #BlackLivesMatter, but overall support is still tepid

Growing support.
Growing support.
Image: Reuters/Andrew Kelly
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In 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin a year earlier. That summer, the Black Lives Matter movement was born, and three years later, the movement remains as important as ever, as violence against blacks in America at the hands of police continues.

Support for #BlackLivesMatter has grown, including among young white Americans. A report published (pdf, p. 23) in August by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago found that that 51% of white Americans show some or strong support for the movement, up 10% from June (pdf, p. 18).

Cathy Cohen, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, and her colleagues created the GenForward Survey, which examines the results of monthly surveys taken of close to 2,000 millennial Americans this past June. She thinks that the changing opinions of young white Americans is probably a result of police brutality in the news; the August report came soon after the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. When examples stack up, it’s harder for anyone to deny that there is a problem with police brutality.

Nevertheless, according to the recent poll, white Americans are still much less likely to support the movement than their peers of color. According to the August report, over 60% of Asian and Latino Americans also support the movement, as do 85% of African Americans. That may be, Cohen says, because “young people of color again have had a very different experience with police.” Unlike American youth of color, most young white Americans are taught that police are there to protect them.

That might also explain why a full two-thirds of white Americans aged 18 to 31 believe that the Black Lives Matter movement may lead to violence against police, compared to less than half of minorities within the same age group. Only 40% of millennial white Americans saw recent killings as part of a trend, compared to more 51% of Latinos, 61% of Asian Americans, and 82% of African Americans.

Although they’ve only taken data for the past three months, Cohen believes that the support for the movement will only continue to grow over time, even if white support is, as she puts it, “tepid” right now.

“What we’re seeing is that as young white adults are presented with more and more causes of the police acting unlawfully…we’re going to see increasing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.”