Most North Carolinians Want Police Reform, But it’s Still a Partisan Issue

ELIZABETH CITY, NORTH CAROLINA - APRIL 27: Patrice Revelle stands in front of police in riot gear as they force people off a street as they protest the killing of Andrew Brown Jr. on April 27, 2021 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The police were enforcing an 8 pm curfew announced after the shooting death of Brown by Pasquotank County Sheriff deputies on April 21. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

By Billy Ball

June 3, 2021

Mid-May polling was often split on partisan lines, but North Carolinians were generally supportive of more police scrutiny.

Several weeks after deputies in northeastern North Carolina shot and killed an unarmed Black man, new polling in the state showed broad support for law enforcement reforms. 

The polling, commissioned by the progressive advocacy group Carolina Forward, found nearly 60% in the state agreed that the use of deadly force by law enforcement should be “much more restricted and scrutinized,” although there was a stark divide in some cases on partisan lines.

NC-based Public Policy Polling conducted the survey May 14-15 with 912 registered voters in NC roughly three weeks after deputies in Pasquotank County in northeastern North Carolina shot and killed a fleeing Andrew Brown Jr. in the back of the head while serving drug-related warrants. The case has once again brought a wave of public attention, as well as a federal civil rights investigation, to law enforcement violence against Black people.

The district attorney serving Pasquotank County says he will not seek charges against deputies involved in the shooting but a federal investigation remains open. 

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State lawmakers in the NC Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan bill last month that would streamline the release of bodycam footage for the families of people killed or injured by police. 

That bill would also create a database for tracking law enforcement officers with a history of questionable actions, although bodycam footage would still not be released to the public without a court order. The legislation passed the Senate unanimously but has not been acted on the state House yet. 

Police reform at the federal level through the George Floyd Act has also been stymied in the US Senate, where Democrats are several votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a GOP filibuster of the bill. 

The recent survey of North Carolinians found a stark divide between Democrats and Republicans on the issue. Democrats and independents tended to favor more restrictions and were generally more interested in the Andrew Brown case. Republicans, the opposite, indicating that the issue has become a partisan one. 

The polling also showed general support for ending “qualified immunity,” which shields law enforcement from personal liability lawsuits involving constitutional violations.

“Unfortunately, and once again, our state’s political leadership has shown itself to be increasingly out of touch with the people they purport to represent,” Carolina Forward Executive Director Blair Reeves said in a statement. “While most North Carolinians remain supportive of law enforcement in general, they are increasingly demanding a system of policing that better serves our communities and is less tainted by racial discrimination.”


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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