A year since the murder of George Floyd and the biggest Black Lives Matter protests yet, white support for Black lives has….declined.
In both cases, the deterioration in support is noteworthy because we do not merely observe a return to pre-Floyd opinion levels. Rather, since last summer, Republicans and white people have actually become less supportive of Black Lives Matter than they were before the death of George Floyd — a trend that seems unlikely to reverse anytime soon.
What do we make of these patterns, starting with the apparent surge in support for Black Lives Matter observed in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s death? First, it seems clear that at least some of this surge reflected shock and disapproval over this particular episode rather than a broad embrace of a political movement with a specific agenda. Keep in mind, even Donald Trump remarked, after seeing the video, “It doesn’t get any worse than that.”
George Floyd’s death was documented by a video that was both viscerally upsetting and morally unambiguous — a police officer kneeling on the neck of a restrained individual, in broad daylight, for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. It left scant room for individuals to fill in the gaps with their own narratives, which so often happens in response to police killings of Black Americans, as was the case with Breonna Taylor. In this case, Americans saw a murder with their own eyes, and whatever they felt likely influenced their responses to questions about B.L.M.
This is why there is little downside for activists to demand the abolition of police and radical change. There’s simply no evidence that moderate changes will gain any support from whites either. Whites have spent 400 years opposing any rights for Black Americans. They will probably spend another 400 years that way. There are exceptions, yes. There’s some optimism for young whites on this and highly educated whites. But by and large, to have a year spent on protesting police violence with murder after murder after murder by the cops of Black Americans followed by less support for Black lives among whites than in May 2020 is beyond depressing. One could almost see how you might feel hopeless about it. But you can’t feel hopeless. You have to keep fighting for change in this racist awful nation. Because there’s no alternative.