A recent poll shows overwhelming Black voter support for community-guided safety models. A joint venture between Data for Progress and the Movement for Black Lives, titled “Black Voters Want to Revolutionize Policing in the United States,” gauged voter viewpoints along several issues including defunding the police, President Donald Trump resigning, and returning community institutions to local control.

According to the poll, Black voters were more likely to support transformative policies—over 70% of those polled backed divesting from police departments and providing Black communities more control over local institutions to invest in education, health care, and housing. In comparison, 57% of Democrats and less than 40% of white voters support these viewpoints. Fifty-six percent of Black voters supported dismantling police departments and shifting to a community-based public safety model. Slightly less than one-half of all voters polled support defunding the police. Using national web-panel respondents, Data for Progressives surveyed 1,157 likely voters. Conducted from June 13 to June 14, 2020, the poll has a margin of error of ±2.9 percentage points.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, co-executive director of the Highlander Center, says the poll results reinforce what people are seeing and hearing from Black people on the ground. For Woodard Henderson, the current movement wave is an extension of Black people’s historical place at the forefront of supporting many progressive issues. 

“When I think about the current demand around defunding the police, and where Black people are lining up, I don’t feel surprised because there’s hundreds of thousands of Black people in this country that believe that we should be divesting from police and investing in Black futures,” said Woodard Henderson. “We sometimes get tiny concessions through piecemeal legislation, regardless of which party it comes from. And what we know is that those are 2014 solutions to a 2020 problem.”

Deploying ‘multi-tactical’ strategies

Henderson stressed that multiple tactics are needed to shift from a system that invests taxpayer dollars in police to one that invests in community solutions. Protesting, attending public meetings, providing public comments, collaborating with existing organizations committed to abolitionist work, and investing in Black communities go hand in hand.

Henderson’s point bears out as organizers across the country use all of the tools in their toolboxes as they deploy a combination of tactics. Pressure has risen over the past month, with school boards responding to demands from young organizers to end police contracts. Local elected bodies in Dallas, Louisville, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, and New York have been challenged by demands in the streets via protest and during public comments alike.

St. Louis residents have used a combination of protests, long-term campaigning and collaborative organizing, and electoral strategies to demand the closure of the Workhouse, a St. Louis jail, and the end to cash bail among other issues of community concern. The Close the Workhouse campaign has been a multi-year collaborative effort between Action St. Louis, Arch City Defenders, and the Bail Project that is centered on the experience and accounts of affected people and their families. Not even getting doxxed by Mayor Lyda Krewson has kept people from taking to the streets and participating in the legislative process by demanding the board of aldermen take necessary action to close the Workhouse.

Minneapolis organizers moved swiftly to capture the energy over the past month to push forward issues such as defunding the police previously thought untenable by electeds. Speaking during a panel on liberation and electoral justice, Wintana Melekin, executive director of Minnesota Voice, emphasized the variety of strategies underway in Minneapolis.  

“These people did not [just] grow a soul,” said Melekin, referring to a majority of the Minneapolis City Council supporting defunding the police. “Three months ago they were all telling me that they were going to continue funding the police. But what they saw [was] the polling. What they saw was the messaging. What they saw were the thousands of calls … and emails in support of abolishing police.” 

Melekin gave the example of a council member, previously considered to be anti-defunding police, who came around after hearing the outpouring of support for a shift in policy from the community, noting how it’s possible to change opinions.

“That’s not normal,” said Melekin. “It has shifted her worldview. And now she’s actually a part of a conversation.”

The rising majority

The quest for justice and equity has never been a popularity contest. If history is any indicator, agitating for social change runs against popular opinion but often achieves results. Public opinion polling during the civil rights movement did not favor justice. Between May 28 and June 2, 1961, 61% of those polled opposed the freedom riders. During the same period, 57% believed that sit-ins at lunch counters, freedom buses, or other forms of demonstration would hurt the chances of Black people attempting to integrate in the South. Sixty percent of those polled in late June 1963 believed mass demonstrations hurt the cause for racial equality. An October 1966 poll revealed 85% of respondents felt demonstrations on civil rights hurt the advancement of Black rights.

When asked about concerns from various elected officials about language or the radical nature of the demand to fundamentally transform the way public safety is handled, Woodard Henderson was unfazed.

“What we know is that the culture of this country is shifting because people of goodwill believe that Black lives matter, and that it is egregious, immoral, and corrupt that this country sits silently while every 28 hours a Black person is murdered by a cop, a vigilante, or a security guard,” she said.

Calling them the rising majority, Woodard Henderson pointed to the communities organizing all over the country as well as the people standing in long lines to cast their ballots. “I think we have the ability to win because we are that rising majority. [This] is what gives me faith and hope that we will actually see the change that we seek to see in the world right now.”

Anoa Changa is a journalist and organizer focused on innovating electoral justice coverage. Follow her on Twitter at @thewaywithanoa.