La. residents believe police treat Black people worse, LSU survey finds

Overwhelming majority approve of expansions to unemployment and Medicaid

Qualified immunity reform bill advances
People gather to protest against the shooting of Alton Sterling on July 10, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Alton Sterling was shot by a police officer in front of the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge on July 5th, leading the Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images)

Most Louisiana residents believe police treat Black people worse and less fairly than they treat White people, and an overwhelming majority approve of the state’s 2016 expansion of Medicaid and last year’s expansion of unemployment benefits, according to the fourth of five reports of the 2021 Louisiana Survey released Thursday by LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab.

Researchers in the Public Policy Research Lab at LSU Manship School of Mass Communication’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs polled 781 adults from across the state to find out how Louisiana residents view their government and its policies. The survey was conducted from Jan. 4 to March 1, and the total sample has a 6.4% margin of error.

State Rep. Matt Willard, D-New Orleans, said in an email Friday that the public’s opinion about policing didn’t shock him.

“I am not surprised by the recent survey results,” Willard wrote. “The evidence supports it, and we regularly see the unfair treatment of black people at the hands of police officers on the news. Issues of racial profiling, stereotyping, and targeting black neighborhoods exist in police departments throughout our state. The disparity that exists for drug related arrests and convictions for black people compared to white people is staggering. I’m happy that this dialogue is taking place, even in the Legislature, but we must take action now, including putting an end to qualified immunity.”

Ending qualified immunity — which essentially makes police officers and other public employees immune from lawsuits when they commit misconduct, violate someone’s rights or break the law — is the major recommendation of the Louisiana Legislature’s Police Training, Screening and De-escalation Task Force, which was created last year after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

In February, the Louisiana House Qualified Immunity Subcommittee of House Civil Law and Procedure voted unanimously to support the task force’s recommendation that “No element of qualified immunity shall be available to law enforcement officers as a defense to liability for claims brought under state law for wrongful death, physical injury, or personal injury inflicted by law enforcement officers through any use of physical force in a manner determined by a finder of fact in a judicial proceeding to be unreasonable.”

Notwithstanding the finding that about 55% of the state’s residents believe police treat Black people worse than White people, the report reveals that Black and White residents have mostly divergent views on topics such as discrimination and racial progress. The survey asked about the extent of racial discrimination in six different situations: in hiring, pay and promotions at work; in stores and restaurants; when applying for a loan or mortgage; in dealing with the police; when voting in elections; and when seeking medical treatment. Policing was the only issue where a majority of Louisiana residents — including a majority of White residents — said Black people face discrimination.

In another finding, an overwhelming 78% of Louisiana residents approve of last year’s expansion of unemployment benefits, and a similar 76% approve of the Medicaid expansion by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards in 2016.

Other highlights from the survey include: 

  • Black Louisiana residents overwhelmingly (84%) reported that the country needs to make further changes to achieve equality. Only 39% of White residents said the same.
  • Overall, 45% of Louisiana residents reported that being White helps one’s chances of getting ahead, and 46% said being Black hurts one’s chances. White residents tended to say race plays little, if any, role in one’s chances of getting ahead.
  • In contrast, Whites think one’s socioeconomic class plays a big role in advancement. Seventy-nine percent said being rich helps, and 78% said being poor hurts, including 58% who say it hurts a lot. When it comes to the role of wealth in shaping one’s chances of getting ahead, attitudes of Black people in Louisiana are similar to those of White people. However, Black residents also reported that race plays an important role.
  • About two-thirds (66%) of Louisiana residents said the nation’s economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, an eight percentage-point increase since 2016.
  • Respondents were divided almost evenly between those who favor a smaller government providing fewer services (48%) and those favoring a larger government providing more services (45%). 

“The Louisiana Survey has been conducted for the past 20 years, establishing rich longitudinal measures of public opinion in Louisiana,” according to the Reilly Center’s press release. “The mission of the Louisiana Survey is to establish benchmarks as well as to capture change in residents’ assessments of state government services. The survey is further dedicated to tracking public opinion on the contemporary policy issues that face the state. Each iteration of the Louisiana Survey contains core items designed to serve as barometers of public sentiment, including assessments of whether the state is heading in the right direction or wrong direction, perceptions about the most important problems facing the state, as well as evaluations of public revenue sources and spending priorities.”

The survey’s first report found that residents are most concerned with the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy, even though more than two-thirds of those surveyed said they were doing financially as well or better than they were a year ago.

The second report found that a third of Louisiana residents have no intention of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them.

The third report found that residents have little stomach for budget cuts in six specific policy areas: elementary and secondary education; higher education; health care; roads, bridges, and highways; prisons and incarceration; and welfare, food stamps and other public assistance programs. While a majority of respondents said they do not want to reduce spending in any of these areas, they only supported tax increases for elementary and secondary education.

The fifth and final report from the Louisiana Survey is slated for release on April 13.

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