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More than a quarter of U.S. adults say they fear being attacked in their neighborhood

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

More than a quarter of American adults say they live in fear of being attacked in their own neighborhoods. That's according to a poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. NPR's Alana Wise reports.

ALANA WISE, BYLINE: Americans of color were more likely than white people to say they feared being threatened or physically attacked. Nineteen percent of white Americans say they had this concern compared to 25 and 26% of Black and Latino respondents. Twenty-one percent of Asian adults shared that concern. None, however, said they lived in fear more than Native Americans, of whom 36% said they were fearful for their personal safety.

PAUL ONGTOOGUK: You know, growing up, we went through the era when it was, you know, just open racism about being Alaskan Indian.

WISE: Paul Ongtooguk is an Inuit man living in Anchorage. He said that because many people are unfamiliar with the appearance of Alaska Natives, they often make crude guesses and stereotypes about his race.

ONGTOOGUK: This one was really weird. I was in Philadelphia. Somebody asked me if I was an octoroon. I had to look it up.

WISE: Reports of hate crimes have spiked in recent years. This includes recent violent attacks on Asian Americans and the racist massacre at a Buffalo grocery store. At 65, Ongtooguk says he thinks he's aged out of some of the more overt attacks that pockmarked his youth. But he still fears for younger family members.

ONGTOOGUK: I like to think at some point people just realize, oh, that's just an older person - no reason to get all in somebody's face.

WISE: Annette Jackson is also in her mid-60s, living 4,000 miles southeast in Texas. In her small town, Jackson, who is mixed race, says that her concerns have only grown in recent years. She has Black, white, Hispanic and Native American ancestry and says she presents as a woman of color.

ANNETTE JACKSON: I would hesitate to call the police in fear that they'd shoot me instead of the person I'm calling the police on. There are people that ride around with the Confederate flag hanging out the back of their truck. You know, I don't feel safe in America.

WISE: Jackson says she noticed it especially after the 2016 presidential race. The night after Donald Trump's victory, Jackson says a man assaulted her in Walmart.

JACKSON: He said, Trump won, and then he spit in my face. Oh, my God. It's like Trump won, so they had a right to treat me any kind of way.

WISE: Jackson's example was extreme but indicative of the sort of fray in social norms that appears to be fueling widespread fear. For Bernardo Medina, his view on the root cause of these tensions is the opposite.

BERNARDO MEDINA: The criminals are empowered, and the good people have to live in fear.

WISE: Medina is a Puerto Rican-born American living in New Jersey. He says he fears greatly for national security and blamed Democrats in power for endangering the public. Medina pointed to the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests as proof of social discord.

MEDINA: They deceived a lot of people with their nice talk and then took the money. So it's all a hoax. It's all a game.

WISE: These protests, however, were overwhelmingly peaceful and came in response to state violence against Black people. Ernesto is a Black man living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He requested to only be identified by his first name. He said that in his 37 years of life, he has never seen the public discourse dissolve this badly.

ERNESTO: I never felt discriminated against. I knew it existed, but I never felt it directed against me, whereas now I'm afraid that it will be because you hear about it so much more and so often.

WISE: Ernesto said he and his wife have begun stockpiling supplies since the pandemic, and in recent years he has taken firearm safety classes to prepare himself in the event that he might have to use his gun.

ERNESTO: I think the pandemic made me realize that we haven't made the progress that we did before. There's no such thing as the truth or fact anymore, and that's scary.

WISE: The poll was conducted between June and July and included a sample of 4,192 adults. Alana Wise, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.