An overwhelming majority of Massachusetts residents back the Black Lives Matter movement and its broad proposals for police reforms but are ambivalent about implementing some in their own communities, according to a wide-ranging new pollfor WGBH News, Boston Globe, MassLive and State House News Service conducted by Suffolk University.
Eighty-five percent of respondents said they strongly support or support Black Lives Matter. A slight majority of respondents — 51 percent — identified themselves as strongly supportive.
"We're getting shot. People are getting shot everyday," said Degupea Grupee of Dorchester, a poll respondent who is Black. "The movement means we're tired of being beat. We're tired of you guys treating us like animals."
Just 10 percent said they oppose or strongly oppose the movement. Dorothy Barnes of North Reading said she is opposed, mainly because of protest tactics that slow or block traffic.
"The philosophical intentions of the movement are laudable. I think the method is abominable," said Barnes, who is white. "Going to the streets, after a while, doesn't accomplish anything except turn off people who are sitting in their hot cars trying to get to work. So their message is lost."
A wide majority — 79 percent — said the filmed killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on Memorial Day reflected broader problems in how officers treat Black people, rather than an isolated incident.
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When it comes to potential policy changes, though, backing ranges from near unanimity to the slimmest of majorities.
Some potential reforms received overwhelming approval. For example, 88 percent of respondents said police should be prohibited from using chokeholds in Massachusetts. Eighty-two percent support licensing police and revoking the licenses of officers who violate statewide rules of conduct.
Brian Calabufalo of Pepperell, who is white, noted that his finished work as a home builder gets checked by local government inspectors.
"You're gonna have bad apple carpenters, you're going to have bad apple news reporters, you're going to have bad apple cops," he said. "I believe [police officers] should be licensed, and I believe the criteria should be year-long."
Exactly 75 percent of residents surveyed said people should be able to sue individual police officers, as opposed to their departments, for actions committed while on duty.
Other proposed changes command narrower majorities. Fifty-six and 53 percent of respondents, respectively, support prohibiting tear gas and rubber bullets in Massachusetts. A bare majority of respondents said police budgets should be reduced, with the funds in question shifted to social services.
"I fall so pro that I find it kind of silly we haven't done it yet," Gunnar Smits told WGBH News.
The white Franklin resident said reallocating police funding into social services would mean more resources and less tension when dealing with people experiencing mental health crises or homelessness.
"A police presence can put a room on edge," Smits said. "People being on edge creates tension, and raising tensions creates problems. Creating problems around police officers ends up getting people dead, so the more we can minimize that the better."
Support for shifting money from police to social services was consistent across most demographic groups, with 51 percent of white, 52 percent of Black and 52 percent of Hispanic respondents supporting the idea. Just 28 percent of Asians were in favor.
On the whole, what activists call “defunding” was less popular when people were asked if their own community’s police budget should be reduced and reallocated, with 45 percent saying yes and 45 percent saying no. Black respondents, though, were more enthusiastic about defunding their local police, with 57 voicing support.
When asked about the impact of race on policing, respondents judged police in general more harshly than police in their own city or town. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said the police don’t treat Black people the way they treat everyone else, but just 49 percent of respondents said the police in their own community don’t.
Every demographic group — white, Black, Hispanic and Asian — was more likely to think their local police treat Black people equally than that police in general do.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents called racism either the most serious or one of the most serious problems facing Massachusetts.
The poll of 500 residents was conducted from June 18 to June 21 and has a margin of error of plus/minus 4.4 percent. The margin for subsamples, like racial or ethnic groups, is higher.
Respondents expressed continued support for Gov. Charlie Baker’s management of the COVID-19 crisis, but apprehensiveness about the state’s reopening.
Support for Baker’s handling of the pandemic remained strong, with 81 percent approving and 14 percent disapproving, compared to 84 and 10 percent, respectively, when WGBH News and the Boston Globe asked the same question in another Suffolk poll conducted in late April and early May.
Respondents were slightly less positive about Baker’s handling of the state’s ongoing reopening, however, with 74 percent approving and 20 percent disapproving.
"He has a hard job," Dori Wade, who is Black, said in a telephone interview with WGBH News Monday.
The Lynn resident said she is not ready to dine out around servers and other guests, but knows Baker has other factors to consider.
"He needs to balance the safety and health of everyone and also the economic impact of people trying to keep their businesses open and keep people employed," Wade said.
Still, Massachusetts residents think more highly of the state’s trajectory than they do of the country’s. Seventy-one percent of respondents said Massachusetts is on the right track, compared to 18 percent who say it’s on the wrong track. In contrast, just 20 percent say the country is headed in the right direction, while 69 percent say it isn’t.
The poll also shows disparate comfort levels about engaging in activities that would signal a return to normalcy in Massachusetts.
Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they would be comfortable seeing relatives in person now or once it’s allowed, and 50 percent said they’d be comfortable being back in person in an office or at school.
Just 41 percent said they’d be comfortable eating out, however, with even fewer saying they’d be comfortable sending children to daycare or school (33 percent), attending a sporting event (23 percent) or riding MBTA vehicles (19 percent).
Parents of school-aged children were actually more at ease with the idea of sending their kids to daycare or school, with 45 percent saying they would be comfortable and 49 percent than they wouldn’t.
“I worry about the recovery, because we’re such a big sports city,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “Restaurants, bars, apparel — there’s so many industries in addition to transportation to and from the game are so important."
He added, “I think it’s instructive to the team owners and other important people in the sports communities. We’re a long way from seeing a packed Fenway Park or TD Garden.”
Still, after three months of a radically altered existence, Massachusetts residents seem to be letting their guard down in one notable area. In May, 69 percent of respondents said they were “very strict” when it comes to social distancing. Today, just 44 percent describe themselves that way.
Eli Kovacevich, a white resident of Rochester, said he has gone from being very strict, self-isolating and avoiding friends, to a more relaxed lifestyle with more social contact.
"I'd say, to a degree, I'm easing up," he explained. "I'm still keeping a good distance and always wearing masks in public and if I've been with friends or anything like that, it's been outdoors. I think it's important that everyone still keeps in mind that while things in Massachusetts are gradually improving. ... We still all have to be cautious."
Reporter Saraya Wintersmith contributed to this article.