New eye-opening survey examines how Millennials view criminal justice system

What do young, Black people think of dealing with the police compared to everyone else?

Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Michael Brown in St. Louis, Missouri. Brown, a 18-year-old black male teenager was fatally wounded by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson Police officer on August 9, 2014. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Today marks the fifth anniversary of shooting death of Michael Brown, which ultimately propelled the city of Ferguson, Mo. into a national spotlight and public turmoil.

Officer Darren Wilson confronted, shot and killed an unarmed 18-year old Brown, which set off a firestorm of protests in Ferguson. The two had exchanged words after Wilson, who is white, accused Brown of stealing from a local store. Wilson said he feared for his life. If killing the teen wasn’t bad enough, leaving his uncovered body in the hot sun for hours until an investigation ensued was a further kick in the teeth.

Wilson was eventually cleared of all criminal wrongdoing.

READ MORE: Exhibit planned in honor of Michael Brown on the five year anniversary of his death

That incident further cemented the topic of criminal justice and reform at the top of mind for many young people of color in this country. As we head into a presidential election year, the issue will make its way into various debates and interviews with each viable candidate who now must prepare and present a plan for reform.

Based at the University of Chicago, the GenForward Survey Project, issued by the Black Youth Project (BYP), released the results of a groundbreaking survey today. It doesn’t just examine the mindset of Millennials (ages 18-36), but it further dissects them by taking the lived experiences of various racial and ethnic backgrounds into consideration.

In a recent examination of the “Criminal Justice Toplines by Race and Ethnicity,” the project interviewed 3,427 young people including 896 African Americans, 539 Asian Americans, 995 Latinx, 903 whites, and 134 people who identify as having other racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Here is a sampling of their insightful results:

The Presidential Election


Several respondents said that criminal justice issues will influence their vote in the 2020 presidential election including 43% of African Americans, 40% of Asian Americans, 42% of Latinx, and 43% of whites.

Radical Criminal Justice Reform


The survey found that 78% of young adults young adults across race and ethnicity (more specifically, 75% of African Americans, 81% of Asian Americans, 74% of Latinxs, and 82% of whites) support radical criminal justice reform policies that would make it more difficult to put people in jail for minor violations like failing to pay a traffic ticket. These are the same revenue generating policing techniques for which the Obama Justice Department called out the Ferguson Police Department.

Policing Black Communities 


Of the African American young adults who participated, 76% agree that police officers treat Black individuals worse than white individuals as do 57% of Asian American, 59% of Latinx, and 50% of white young adults who believe the same.

Encounters with the Police


Nearly half of the African American young adults surveyed (46%) said they “always” or “often” go out of their way to avoid contact with the police or other law enforcement. Only 21% of Asian American, 29% of Latinx, and 26% of white respondents said they felt the same.

Who Trusts the Police?


While the survey found that more than half of the white (54%) and Asian American (51%) respondents felt like they can trust the police to “always” or “often” do what is right, only 30% of African Americans and 39% would agree.

The Most Serious Problem


As we remember the event surrounding the death of Michael Brown, even five years later, it is not surprising to learn that the majority of African American young adults surveyed (57%) believe the killing of Black people by the police in the United States is an extremely serious problem. Asian American (54%) and Latinx (60%) young adults also see this this as a majorly polarizing issue in our country.

Nearly half of the white young adults polled in the group (47%), however, do not recognize the killing of Black Americans by the police as an extremely or very serious problem, and only 33% think it’s a moderately serious problem, proving that we all have a lot of work still to do.

For more details about this survey and others, visit GenForward Survey Project,.