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Americans’ confidence in police hits new low in wake of Tyre Nichols beating: poll

Members of the Memphis Police Department work a crime scene in Memphis, Tenn., Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. Police video of the deadly beating of Tyre Nichols by officers in Memphis, Tenn. is hard to watch. The images are a glaring reminder of repeated failures of efforts to prevent such flashpoints of police brutality. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Americans’ confidence in the police has hit a new low in the wake of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by police in Memphis, Tenn., according to an ABC News-Washington Post poll released on Friday.

Just 41 percent of respondents in the poll said that they are confident that U.S. police treat white and Black people equally, down from 47 percent in July 2020 and 52 percent in December 2014.

Confidence in police training has also dropped to new lows, falling 15 points since 2014. Only 39 percent in Friday’s poll said they are confident police are adequately trained to avoid the use of excessive force.

However, these trends break down along racial and ethnic lines. White people have consistently had higher confidence in police over the last decade, although this confidence has steadily decreased.

The majority of white people in 2014 and 2020 — 66 percent and 53 percent respectively — remained confident that police treated white and Black individuals equally. This number dropped below 50 percent for the first time in the most recent version of the ABC-Post poll, coming in at 48 percent.

Views on whether police are sufficiently trained to avoid excessive use of force showed a similar trend among white people, falling from 62 percent in 2014 to 50 percent in 2020 and 46 percent this year.

Among Black people in the poll, confidence in the police has remained at a consistently low level since 2014 and did not necessarily follow the same steady decline as the overall group. 

Just 21 percent of Black people in 2014 were confident that police treated white and Black people equally. This number dropped to its lowest point in 2020, when only 10 percent expressed confidence on the issue. In 2023, 12 percent said they were confident in equal treatment.

On the issue of excessive force, confidence among Black respondents that police are adequately trained to avoid the use of such force has steadily dropped 9 points since 2014, landing at 20 percent in the most recent poll.

The drop in confidence comes amid public outcry over the death of Tyre Nichols following an encounter with Memphis police last month. Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, was pepper-sprayed, tased and beaten by several police officers during a traffic stop on Jan. 7, and eventually died from his injuries.

The two other times that the ABC-Post poll asked both questions about Americans’ confidence in the police were notably during the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 and following the expansion of Black Lives Matter into a nationally recognized movement in 2014 after the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

The ABC-Post poll was conducted from Jan. 27 to Feb. 1 with 1,003 adults and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. 

Tags excessive force Memphis Police Department police Poll Tyre Nichols

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