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Most See Baltimore Riots As Criminal, Not Protest

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Americans view the recent rioting in Baltimore as criminal behavior, not legitimate protest, and think it will only worsen the criminal justice situation in the city.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 25% of American Adults consider the mob violence in Baltimore that followed the funeral of a black man who died in police custody to be primarily legitimate outrage. Sixty-three percent (63%) instead characterize it as mostly criminals taking advantage of the situation. Twelve percent (12%) are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

By comparison, when rioting flared up in Ferguson, Missouri last August following the shooting of a young black man by a white police officer, 25% said it was primarily legitimate outrage, while 52% saw it mostly as criminal behavior.

But as in most questions related to the criminal justice system, there is a clear racial difference of opinion. Fifty-five percent (55%) of black adults view the mob violence in Baltimore as mostly legitimate outrage. Sixty-eight percent (68%) of white and 64% of other minority Americans consider it primarily criminals taking advantage of the situation.  

Only 14% of all Americans believe the mob violence in Baltimore is likely to improve the criminal justice situation in the city. A plurality (46%) expects the violence to make things worse, while 27% say it will have no impact. Again, 12% are undecided.

Just over half (51%) of Americans think authorities in communities like Baltimore that are having this type of violence are allowing it to get worse by not responding quickly enough. Thirty-four percent (34%) say the response has generally been about right. Sixteen percent (16%) are not sure.

When it comes to Baltimore specifically, only 29% rate the way authorities responded as good or excellent, while 32% view the response as poor. This is a slightly more critical assessment of the local response than Americans had following the Ferguson outbreak.

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The survey of 800 Adults was conducted on April 28-29, 2015 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3.5 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

The U.S. Justice Department in March issued a report accusing the city government in Ferguson of a widespread pattern of racial discrimination. But 70% of Likely U.S. Voters say the level of crime in low-income inner city communities is a bigger problem in America today than police discrimination against minorities.

Forty-three percent (43%) of Americans are concerned that efforts by authorities to prevent violence and property destruction in situations like the one in Baltimore may violate the First Amendment rights of some protesters. Fifty-two percent (52%) don’t have that concern. This includes 20% who are Very Concerned and 25% who are Not At All Concerned.

This is slightly less concern than Americans expressed last November just before expected protests in Ferguson in response to a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer involved for murder.

The majority of adults in most demographic categories view the mob violence in Baltimore as primarily criminal. Women and those under 40 are a bit more likely than men and older Americans to see it as mostly legitimate outrage.

Fifty percent (50%) of white adults think the rioting is likely to make the criminal justice situation in Baltimore worse, a view shared by 39% of black and 40% of other minority adults. Just 19% of blacks and 20% of other minorities think it will improve the criminal justice situation, but that compares to 11% of whites.

Blacks and other minority Americans also feel more strongly than whites do that authorities in general are not responding quickly enough to this type of violence. They’re also more critical of the response in Baltimore.

At the same time, 61% of black Americans are concerned that efforts by authorities to prevent violence and property destruction may violate the First Amendment rights of some protesters. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of whites don’t share that concern. Other minorities are almost evenly divided on this question.

Republicans and those not affiliated with either major party are much more critical of those who rioted in Baltimore than Democrats are. They also believe more strongly that the mob violence will make the situation in Baltimore worse.

Seventy-nine percent (79%) of all Americans say they have followed recent news reports about the situation in Baltimore at least somewhat closely, with 38% who have followed Very Closely.

Sixty-seven percent (67%) rate the performance of the police in the area where they live as good or excellent, and just 13% think most deaths that involve the police are the fault of the policeman.

Americans still believe most of their fellow countrymen aren’t racist but think race relations in this country have taken a decided turn for the worse.

Eighty-two percent (82%) of black voters think most black Americans receive unfair treatment from the police. White voters by a 56% to 30% margin don’t believe that’s true. Other minority voters are evenly divided.

Sixty-one percent (61%) of all voters think the media overhypes incidents in which blacks are shot by white police officers, and 63% believe this media coverage is making it more dangerous for police officers to do their jobs.

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

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