President Obama may have campaigned on a platform of healing the nation’s racial wounds, but according to a new Gallup survey released on Monday, those wounds have only festered under his watch.
Thirty-five percent of people in the survey said they worry “a great deal” about the state of race relations in America, the highest the poll has reported since it began asking the question in 2001. That number is also up from 28 percent in 2015 and has more than doubled since 2014, when just 17 percent of Americans said they were extremely anxious about racial strife in America.
The perception of worsening race relations was actually stronger among black people in the survey, which showed that 53 percent of black people and 27 percent of white people saying they were worried about race relations. But in 2014 31 percent of black people and 14 percent of white people said that.
Although racial tension, and the perception gap, is the highest it’s been in the poll’s 15-year history, black people in a separate Gallup poll report said they experienced roughly the same — or even less — mistreatment at the hands of the police now compared to the past.
That survey showed just 18 percent of black people in 2015 said they felt personally mistreated by the police in the last 30 days, compared to 17 percent in 2013 and 25 percent in 2004.
And research conducted by Peter Moskos of John Jay College shows that, between 2013 and 2015, white people were 1.7 times more likely than black people to be killed at the hands of police after adjusting for the racial disparity in the homicide rate.
Joe Hicks, a black man who serves as vice president of Community Advocates, Inc., a Los Angeles-based political think tank, said Mr. Obama’s praise of Black Lives Matter was just one of many instances in which the president “put his thumb on the scale of racial incitement.”
Pointing to several instances in which he has taken the side of racial agitators over the police, Mr. Hicks said the president has “virtually fanned the flames of racial incitement” from his lofty perch at the White House.
“President Obama clearly sees the world through a very interesting racial lens,” Mr. Hicks said. “Every time he had a chance to weigh in on race, he put his thumb on the scale of racial victimization, almost through the eyes of a racial activist.”
For instance, there was his claim that the police “acted stupidly” in the Henry Louis Gates case. Police were called to the home of the eminent Harvard professor after witnesses spotted a black man trying to force open the jammed front door. That man turned out to be Mr. Gates himself, but he was arrested for disorderly conduct in a confrontation over the call.
“I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that,” Mr. Obama said in 2009. “But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry. Number two, that Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home. And number three, I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of American-Americans and Latinos being stopped disproportionately. That’s just a fact.”
Mr. Obama resolved the issue by inviting Mr. Gates and the arresting police officer to a “Beer Summit” at the White House.
Mr. Hicks attributed most of the anxiety reflected in the Gallup poll to Black Lives Matter, calling the group a “completely destructive force” for race relations in America.
“They’re probably one of the most destructive forces I think we’ve seen in the racial milieu of this country that I can frankly remember,” he said.
“There’s been no attempt to change the narrative in terms of how black people explain themselves to the world, except as victims,” Mr. Hicks said. “Black Lives Matter tapped into that ancient narrative of the victim, in which every black man shot, no matter what the circumstances may be — has a gun, shot at police — doesn’t matter. The man is somehow a victim of racism.”
Pointing to other polls that have shown similarly worrisome attitudes toward race relations, Mr. Hicks said the attention given to the Black Lives Matter movement may be distorting perceptions about race in America.
“Most white people polled said they saw a dark scenario vis-a-vis race issues in America, but when asked what your relationships are like with people of color that you know, a large percentage said they’re fine,” he said.
Mr. Obama personally thanked leaders from Black Lives Matter for their advocacy at a February White House reception.
“They are much better organizers than I was when I was their age, and I am confident that they are going to take America to new heights,” the president said.
• Bradford Richardson can be reached at email@example.com.
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