Voters Believe NYPD to Blame for Eric Garner's Death, Poll Shows

August 27, 2014
Jeff Mays

HARLEM — Most New York City voters believe police have no excuse for the way they acted during the arrest of Staten Island man Eric Garner, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Only 24 percent of those polled said the actions by police, caught on camera wrestling with Garner while trying to arrest him, were understandable.  Sixty-eight percent disagreed.

Broken down by race, 90 percent of black voters, 71 percent of Latino voters and 52 percent of white voters said there was no excuse for the way police acted.

But when it comes to "Broken Windows" policing (where police officers focus on low-level crimes to deter larger ones), which explains why Garner was targeted for selling loose cigarettes, voters support it.

Asked whether making arrests for low level offenses improves quality of life in the city's neighborhood, 56 percent of voters said yes versus 35 percent who thought it adds tension.

"It's clear around the city people want to see enforcement on quality of life crimes. They want it to be fair," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a Harlem press conference. "They want it to be equal treatment under the law in all parts of the city."

The debate over the Broken Windows strategy has grown since Garner's death. Many believe that stop and frisk, which targeted mostly black and Latino men, is simply an offspring of Broken Windows.

De Blasio disputed that.

"We need fair and equal application of the law," he said. "That's what this is all about."

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, whose approval rating has dropped 9 percent since the Garner case, said he was "gratified but not surprised" by the poll's findings and called quality of life initiatives the "foundation" of policing in a democracy.

"The challenge remains to do it in a way that is both lawful and respectful," Bratton said in a statement.

The poll shows that 63 percent of voters believe police are tougher on blacks versus 30 percent who thought blacks were treated the same. In addition, 72 percent of voters believe police brutality is a very serious or somewhat serious problem in New York City.

Almost 100 percent of blacks — 96 percent — believed that police brutality was a very serious or somewhat serious problem in the city. For Latinos, that number was 73 percent.

"It's clear to New Yorkers that police brutality is a serious problem, and it is particularly evident to Black and Latino New Yorkers," said Priscilla Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Communities United for Police Reform.

Roughly 64 percent of voters believe criminal charges are appropriate in the Garner case versus 19 percent who do not, according to the poll.

The Staten Island District Attorney has launched a grand jury to examine charges in the case and Sharpton and Garner's family have met with federal prosecutors.

Topics: Eric Garner