Recent public opinion surveys reveal somewhat disjointed attitudes toward the legitimacy of violence, with Americans on one hand embracing violent policies as they pertain to assassinating suspected terrorists, and on the other rejecting the use of violent protests against police brutality.
In one recent poll, nearly three-quarters of respondents said that it’s acceptable for the U.S. to use unmanned aerial drones to kill American citizens abroad if they are suspected of having joined a terrorist organization. The survey, conducted by the Associated Press and GfK in the days following President Barack Obama’s public apology for a CIA drone strike in Pakistan that inadvertently killed American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto, found that only 13 percent oppose the use of drones in this respect, with six in ten supporting the practice of assassinating terror suspects without due process.
Although some have criticized the wording of the survey, such as Dan Froomkin and Jon Schwarz noting at The Intercept that the AP itself acknowledged that it did not include questions about collateral damage, it nevertheless provides a fairly strong indication of public support for a policy that since 2002 has killed more than 1,000 civilians in hundreds of strikes against Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan. A similar poll conducted last year also found most Americans were “inclined to support the government in its lethal attacks on citizens and non-citizens it deems to be terrorists.”
With this sort of broad support for the government’s liberal use of lethal force, one might assume that the American public generally agrees that violence is a legitimate recourse in response to potential threats or sources of injustice. But while six in ten Americans consider legitimate the use of drone strikes to kill U.S. citizens without being charged or tried, a virtually identical number considers illegitimate the use of riots to protest police brutality.