Will the Eric Garner case change things?

Story highlights

  • Polling, pundit reactions, suggest outrage over Eric Garner case is widespread
  • Conservative icons join protesters in criticizing grand jury decision
  • But political science professor says he doesn't think that means the case is a watershed

(CNN)Fox News firebrand Bill O'Reilly agrees. So does Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. Even conservative kingpin Rush Limbaugh has something in common with the thousands of protesters flooding American streets with anger over the grand jury decision in the Eric Garner case.

They all think the grand jury got it wrong.
It was enough for the satirists at NBC's "Saturday Night Live" to poke a little fun at civil rights icon Al Sharpton, who has found his world suddenly turned topsy-turvy will all the new allies in the Garner case.
    "What the hell is going on?" an actor portraying Sharpton said on Saturday's program. "Last night I was sitting in front of my TV, and I found myself saying, 'You damn right, Bill O'Reilly.' I'm all messed up!"
    And it's not just O'Reilly. In contrast with another high-profile case involving brutality complaints against police -- the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri -- a solid majority of Americans disagree with the New York grand jury that declined to charge Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner's death, according to a Bloomberg Politics poll released Sunday.
    According to the poll, 60% of Americans feel the grand jury made the wrong decision. Twenty-five percent of respondents said they agreed with the decision.
    The backlash -- both from conservative commentators and the public -- is different from the reaction to the recent grand jury decision to forgo charges against the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, a much more widely reported incident.
    In that case, a majority of Americans agreed with the grand jury, although opinions were split firmly along racial, and often political lines. According to the Bloomberg poll, 52% of Americans -- including 64% of whites -- sided with the grand jury's findings.
    Thirty-six percent disagreed, including 78% of African-American respondents to the poll, which was conducted December 3 to December 5 and has a margin of error of three percentage points.
    A CNN/ORC poll found similar divisions in the Ferguson case. In that poll -- conducted before the grand jury decision was announced -- 54% of non-whites said Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson should be charged with murder. Among whites, 23% shared the same feeling.
    Washington Post writer Aaron Blake said the poll results in the Garner case show it is "the turning point Ferguson never was."
    "In the Garner case, there is a video, leading to less debate about the particulars of precisely what happened," Blake wrote in a piece published Monday.
    "As this poll shows, that is much more conducive to building consensus. And when it comes to taking action in response -- action of any kind -- that kind of bipartisan and biracial consensus makes it significantly more likely," he wrote.
    Not so fast, said Jason Johnson, a political science professor at Hiram College in Hiram, Ohio.
    "Acknowledging something is wrong is not the same as doing something about it," he said.
    He said conservative pundits who have "cherry picked" the Garner case aren't likely to stand arm-in-arm with protesters demanding reforms.
    But what of the poll results showing more Americans take issue with the Garner decision?
    That's where Johnson sees change coming, but not with Garner's death as the catalyst.
    Political and demographic changes have been driving those changes for years, Johnson said, ever since the Rodney King case roiled Los Angeles and the nation after police officers were taped beating King as he rolled in agony on a Los Angeles street following a high-speed chase.
    Trust in police has fallen in recent years, he said, citing poll results that particularly show a decline in trust among African-Americans. Meanwhile, the country has become more diverse.
    Those changes will eventually force a change in how police do their work, Johnson said.
      What the Garner case could do, he said, is move the national conversation past what some consider to be the overly simplistic suggestion that police body cameras will solve everything.
      "The changes we're going to see now, if there are any, are going to have to be much more substantive and much more on the ground," he said.