In the nearly two years since the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, the climate between those meant to protect and the people they’re meant to serve has grown stormy. Whereas the sight of a gun and a badge may have once elicited feelings of safety, recent events have created something of a rift between law enforcement officials and civilians, with anti-police sentiment often grabbing headlines. In an attempt to better understand our feelings towards police, security firm Protection1 analyzed over 1.2 million tweets to determine where in the U.S. individuals approve or disapprove of law enforcement the most.
Since 2014, there have been a number of high-profile incidents involving unarmed civilians (often of color), who became victims of what many perceived to be unnecessary and excessive force. One of the most pronounced negative-sentiment dips in terms of police-related tweets occurred in August 2014, following the death of Michael Brown.
Sentiment dropped again in April 2015, when Freddie Gray died of a spinal cord injury following his arrest. A few months later, anger flared again when Sandra Bland was arrested and subsequently found dead in her jail cell three days later. And when Ohio resident Samuel DuBose was killed by an officer during a traffic stop, Twitter took up its arms once more.
Interestingly, the study notes, when there exists more discussion around police on Twitter, the sentiment tends to be more negative. This is likely due to the fact that police-related tweets spike following killings involving law enforcement, though generally speaking, Twitter seems to stay away from the subject of police brutality. Indeed, since DuBose, little has been said about police on social media, and sentiment has remained relatively positive.
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In terms of geographic interest, Maryland, Louisiana, Texas, and Ohio tweeted most frequently about the police. This is unsurprising, given the locations of many police-involved tragedies. Maryland and Ohio saw the deaths of Freddie Gray and Samuel DuBose, respectively, while Texas saw the death of Sandra Bland. Curiously enough, men seem far more vocal about police on Twitter than women, tweeting twice as frequently as their female counterparts. And when it comes to how people in America’s 10 biggest cities feel about the police, opinions are split down the middle. While Chicago, Houston, and Phoenix seem to feel the most negatively about police, Dallas, San Antonio, and San Jose appear relatively positive.
Ultimately, it seems, this rather delicate subject keeps the nation relatively divided, even on social media.