A poll taken since a white police officer in Missouri shot dead an unarmed black teenager shows blacks and whites sharply divided on how fairly the police deal with each group, along with a rising feeling, especially among whites, that race relations in the country are troubled.
But when asked about their own communities, members of each race say their relations with the other are good.
The latest New York Times/CBS News nationwide poll shows most whites reserving judgment on whether the fatal shooting of the teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, was justified. Most blacks say it was not.
“Whether they robbed a store, pushed a man, or whatever the case may be, there are other strategies and tactics the police officer should use before excessive force and brutally killing someone in cold blood,” Felicia Irving, 28, a high school English teacher in Hampton, Georgia, who is black, said in a follow-up interview to the poll.
Jean Smith, 75, a retiree in Hartford, Alabama, who is white, said she could not determine “with just two or three facts” whether the officer, Darren Wilson, had been justified in shooting and killing Brown.
“To know whether it was justified, I’d have to know the whole thing from beginning to end and look at it as objectively as possible,” Smith said.
The poll also shows significant differences in how blacks and whites view the unrest that has gripped Ferguson since Brown’s killing.
Most whites say they think the actions of the protesters have gone too far, while blacks are more evenly divided. Thirty-eight percent of blacks think the protesters’ actions have been about right, compared with 15 percent of whites. A vast majority of the protesters in Ferguson have been black.
Since Aug. 9, when Wilson shot and killed Brown, protesters have marched just blocks away, sometimes peacefully, other times with acts of violence.
The police have dressed in riot gear, driven armored vehicles on the streets, and used tear gas and rubber bullets.
The public is split over the police response, with equal numbers saying that the police have gone too far and that their efforts have been about right. But black Americans are nearly twice as likely as whites to fault the police.
The issue at the heart of the unrest in Ferguson — the suspicion among some that a white policeman was trigger-happy when faced with a young black man — is also at the heart of what divides black and white Americans.
An overwhelming majority of blacks say they think that, generally, the police are more likely to use deadly force against a black person; a majority of whites say race is not a factor in a police officer’s decision to use force.