By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Recent incidents of African-Americans being killed or brutalized by police have heightened tensions and lowered the level trust they have for officers who patrol their communities.
These are negative views that Blacks have of police nationwide, and right here in Hampton Roads, according to ODU’s 2016 Life in Hampton Roads (LIHR) Survey report conducted by the school’s Social Science Research Center, Office of Research, and College of Arts and Letters.
Overall, the LIHR survey noted that 70 percent of the respondents who participated in the survey believed the “Quality of Life” in Hampton Roads was excellent or good while 28.8 percent found it to be fair or poor. But there was a striking contrast in seven of the region’s most populous cities between the 1000 African-Americans and Whites who participated in the phone survey, about their views on the police,.
For instance, White respondents, according to the LIHR, were significantly more likely to say they were either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the police in general (90 percent). In comparison, only 73.4 percent of the African-Americans who participated in the survey were either very satisfied or somewhat satisfied.
Conversely 26.6 percent of African-American respondents said they were either somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the police in general compared to only 9 percent of Whites.
The survey did not seek to explain these gaps in thinking between African-Americans and Whites on the issue of police community relations. The report looked at the views of African-Americans toward the police who live in the seven most populous cities in Hampton Roads, on the subject of police- community relations. All seven of the cities had a higher percentage of Blacks who were somewhat or very dissatisfied with the police compared to White residents of those locales who said they held the police in higher regard.
Those differences were “statistically significant” in Hampton, Newport News and Virginia Beach. Newport News and Portsmouth had the highest percentage of dissatisfaction with the police among Black respondents, (39.3 and 39.4 percent, respectively. Chesapeake had the highest percent of satisfaction with the work of police among Blacks and Whites, in the region: 96.7 percent compared to 87.0 percent respectively. In Norfolk Whites were 90.8 percent very satisfied somewhat with the police and 9.2 percent somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the police.
But for Blacks living in Norfolk, only 81.4 percent of them had a very satisfied or somewhat satisfied view of the police and a 18.6 percent somewhat dissatisfied and very dissatisfied view. The report came out during the recent week-long trial of Police Officer Michael Edington, who was found not guilty of manslaughter in the 2014 shooting death of David Latham. Latham was killed after a brief stand-off with police at his home in the Park Place section of Norfolk. The officer claimed that Latham made a threatening move with a knife toward him and two other officers at the scene. Although the other officers at the scene did not back up Edington’s claim and the prosecution sought to cast doubt on the credibility of the lead police detective who testified for Edington, the jury believed Edington and found him not guilty.
According to the 2016 LIHR, when comparing the views of African-Americans and Whites on satisfaction with how local police treat citizens, a significantly higher percent of Blacks were either somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied (37 percent) compared to Whites (13.6 percent). On the issue of how police treat fellow citizens in their respective communities African-Americans were somewhat or very dissatisfied compared to Whites.
Portsmouth and Newport News had the highest percentages of dissatisfaction among Black respondents (67 percent and 42 percent respectively) with how the local police treat citizens.
In fact, according to the survey, Portsmouth was the only city to have a majority of dissatisfied responses from African-Americans. Chesapeake had the highest percentage of satisfaction with local police treatment of citizens among Whites (93 percent), while Hampton had the highest percentage of satisfaction with how the police treat citizens among Blacks in that city (75.6 percent).
So far as comparing the level of trust of police by White and Black residents, a higher percentage of Blacks were either somewhat dissatisfied or very dissatisfied (28 percent) compared to Whites (8.8 percent). Blacks in Virginia Beach had the highest trust for the police, and in Newport News, Blacks had the lowest trust. In Norfolk only 78 percent of Blacks trusted the police and 72 percent of Blacks in Chesapeake.
In Newport News, 39 percent of Blacks said they had “not much” or “no trust at all” in the police. In Norfolk 21.9 percent of Blacks felt the same. In Portsmouth 27.3 percent of Blacks had little or no trust in the officers who served their communities. Respondents to the survey were asked, “I can usually understand why the local police who work in my neighborhood choose to act as they in particular situations.”
African-Americans had a higher dissatisfaction in their responses compared to Whites, to that question. Portsmouth and Suffolk had the highest percentage of Blacks disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the statement (42 percent and 40 percent), respectively. Virginia Beach and Chesapeake Whites agreed the most with that statement (93.9 and 93.5 percent) respectively.
Without accounting for race, respondents were asked a series of questions about the rights of citizens with prior felony convictions, such as whether they should be allowed to vote, apply for state jobs, or whether private landlords should be able to automatically disqualify people with prior felony convictions from being able to rent housing. About two-thirds of respondents (67.1 percent) said they either strongly agreed (19.1 percent) or agreed (48.0 percent) that those with prior felony convictions should be allowed to vote.
Only 26.2 percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed that those with prior felony convictions should be allowed to vote. Just under two-thirds (65.5 percent) also either strongly agreed or agreed that those with prior felony convictions should be able to apply for state jobs. Only 28.5 percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed that those with prior felony convictions should be able to apply for state jobs. Sixty percent of respondents said that a private landlord should not be able to automatically disqualify people with prior felony convictions from being able to rent housing.