These violent protests last week were preceded and followed by days of peaceful demonstrations in the city. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, people felt too much attention was paid to the rioting and unrest and not enough attention was paid to the nonviolent protests that took place.
This survey, which was released this week, shows how unhappy people were with the Baltimore coverage overall, a feeling that was particularly acute among younger people:
These numbers from Pew are intriguing, because they come from a survey conducted during the days when most eyes were turned to Baltimore.
The survey highlights an interesting generational divide that exists, one that is particularly noteworthy when you consider that young Americans (millennials, if you will) and older Americans have very different frames of reference for these kinds of demonstrations. Older Americans lived through the civil rights movement and witnessed riots during the 1960s, while younger Americans are more familiar with Occupy Wall Street and, over the last year, saw a series of cities erupt with demonstrations over the way police officers use force toward black men and boys. This tension has played out among protesters themselves, something we saw in Ferguson last summer and continuing into this year.
Still, the reaction to the situation in Baltimore also shows that young people really do not see the protests and the ensuing coverage the same way. More than half of people between ages 18 and 29 say that too little attention was paid to nonviolent protests; that number is far lower for each older age group, with a third of older Americans saying these demonstrations got the right level of coverage.
The oldest age group — people age 65 or older — are far less likely to say that too little attention was paid to the nonviolent protests. Just 17 percent of them feel that way, which is less than a third of the number of 18-to-29-year-olds who say the same thing.
If you step back and look at all people, you also see that more than four in 10 Americans say that too much attention was paid to the riots (44 percent). By comparison, half of that number think too much attention was paid to the nonviolent protests.
But we have to note that it was the riots that helped draw so much of what became heavy national news coverage. As was pointed out repeatedly, the night of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, CNN opted to cover the dinner rather than the unrest that followed Gray’s death. Last week, with the rioting dominating the news at the beginning of the week, a third of people said it was the top story they were closely following, outstripping things like the massive earthquake in Nepal or the Supreme Court hearing same-sex marriage arguments.
The Pew numbers also help illustrate how the public response to Baltimore was so different from the reaction to the protests in Ferguson, Mo., and New York last year.
When grand juries opted not to indict the officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown or Eric Garner, public opinion was more diffuse, with white people and black people responding very differently to these decisions. After the six Baltimore officers were charged, there is still a gap between how black people and white people responded, but it was much smaller than the divides seen last year. This coincides with an increasing number of white people saying in a New York Times/CBS News poll, also released this week, that race relations in this country are “generally bad.”