Social activists say message still strong but poll shows dropping support in wake of violence

Despite property damage and vandalism from recent protests in Durham and Raleigh, respectively, community advocates said they do not feel their message is getting lost.

"The people are hurt. The people are frustrated. The people feel oppressed. And that's their way of expressing it. So in order for this to quell, we need to have a conversation with all key players at the table, and sit down, and figure out some immediate relief for the most marginalized populations," said Kerwin Pittman, a prominent activist.

A recent poll from The Associated Press and NORC at the University of Chicago, a non-partisan and objective research organization, found support for the protests against police violence have dropped in the past few months.

In June, 54% of Americans voiced support for the protests against police violence; in a poll conducted earlier this month, that number had dropped to 39% (note: the poll in June specifically mentioned the death of George Floyd, the more recent poll did not).

The poll also found that a larger percentage of Americans believe that protests have been violent than they did in June.

"Breaking of windows, and things of those nature, we must realize that's just a symptom of the problem. The problem and the root cause we must get to is systemic racism and systematic oppression," Pittman said.

Mayor Steve Schewel of Durham and Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin of Raleigh both issued sharp rebukes of property damage following recent protests, which they both said took attention away from work of protesters focused on social justice.

"If you want to be angry with anyone about the disruption, about the violence in the streets, be angry with the powers that be that do not respond as proactively to state-sanctioned violence against black and brown bodies as they do about the possibility of violence against property," said Dawn Blagrove, the Executive Director of Emancipate NC.

Pittman acknowledged that though they have seen smaller crowds at more recent events, he does not believe support is waning. Blagrove agrees and she added that the overwhelming majority of protests have been peaceful.

"What (people are) tired of is the feeling, the (awareness) of realizing their role in the oppression. That is what folks are tired of. And the only way you overcome that level of tired is to become active and change the system, so that they are fair and equitable to everyone," Blagrove explained.

Both Pittman and Blagrove explained that public demonstrations are only part of their work.

"Over the next couple of weeks, my focus will be severely to galvanize the individuals in the community who feel like their voices are unheard, who feel like they have been downtrodden, who feel like they do not have a place in this system. To educate them on different policies. To press individuals who are running for offices on their policies particularly when it comes to the most marginalized community. How will you help these individuals? And not just give us lip service. Give us immediate action if possible," said Pittman, who noted that they are holding an event on Saturday at noon about electoral issues.

"Now, those folks and us as activists have to do the hard work of helping them understand beyond slogans," Blagrove added. "Helping them see and understand what policy change looks like beyond hashtags. And that is the hard work -- the community educating. Helping people understand what the possibilities are."

The protests have also been financially costly to downtown Raleigh business owners, who have had to pay to board up windows or replace shattered glass.

Citing a state statute over privacy matters, Raleigh Police declined to answer questions about blocking off streets or communication with protest organizers.

A Raleigh city official acknowledged that for Saturday's protest, Fayetteville Street and some feeder streets were closed off "out of an abundance of caution to help people safely exercise their 1st Amendment rights." The official added that the city cannot block off streets from protesters.
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