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We are divided on Black Lives Matter and other movements

December 16, 2018

The Black Lives Matter movement has generated much media attention and controversy, and the discussion and commentary about the movement are far-reaching. That’s why we thought it was important to study who is more likely to support it and who is more likely to oppose it.

In a recently published paper in the academic journal Justice Quarterly, we sought to answer this question with data from a nationally representative sample of Americans. We found large differences between people who support or oppose Black Lives Matter, or BLM, with respect to various demographic and political variables. We find that older, Republican and conservative men were more likely to oppose BLM, while blacks and individuals who perceive their local police to exhibit biases against blacks were less likely to oppose BLM.

We also observed that states with more fatal police shootings, as well as where the Republican candidate won a greater percentage of the vote in the 2012 presidential election, were more likely to oppose BLM. And some states were shown to be more supportive (Washington) while others were more opposed (Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas).

Without a doubt, BLM is a politically polarizing issue, but it does not stand in isolation to other social movements or social protests. In research I published in Deviant Behavior, my colleagues and I observed similar deep divisions among young adults’ views about NFL anthem protests.

These divisions are not of the ilk that we learned about in elementary mathematics — formulas that prove helpful to us all, regardless of sex, skin color, creed or political orientation. Instead, the divisions that are front and center of various social movements; social and political protests and politics can be disconcerting and violent — as we saw in Charlottesville, Va., and most recently Pittsburgh.

These divisions should be met first with an understanding of their origins, an ability to see the other point of view and, above all — as the late Sen. John McCain reminded us — with the optimism that an opportunity presents itself to help build bridges. Or, as President Ronald Reagan famously noted to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to tear down walls.

Once we sit down, talk with one another and, more important, listen to what others have to say and try to walk in their shoes, we will start to make inroads on being less divisive and more inclusive.

If there is anything that rooting for our home team tells us — whether it’s the San Antonio Spurs or the Dallas Mavericks — it’s that we have much more in common than we do not. On the playing field, race does not seem to matter much. Let’s try to do better and carry that into our lives.

Alex R. Piquero is Ashbel Smith Professor of Criminology and Associate Dean for Graduate Programs at the University of Texas at Dallas. Erin Orrick is assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology and research director for the Correctional Management Institute of Texas at Sam Houston State University.

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