The grand jury decisions not to indict police officers who killed unarmed men in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York have revealed a huge racial divide in how Americans perceive law enforcement in the United States.
While more than one in five white residents, 21%, reports increased confidence in the legal system following these decisions, seven in ten African Americans, 70%, have decreased confidence in the judicial system.
Additionally, whites are more than four times as likely as African Americans to have a great deal of confidence in police officers to treat blacks and whites equally, and whites are nearly four times more likely than African Americans to have a lot of trust in their local police officers to refrain from using excessive force when taking a suspect into custody. White residents are also more than three times as likely as African Americans to believe local police do a good job enforcing the law.
By more than two-to-one, African Americans are more likely than whites to say law enforcement applies different standards to whites and blacks.
Age also impacts perceptions of law enforcement in the United States. Americans under age 30 have a more negative view of police officials than older Americans. However, when it comes to the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island, younger Americans are more likely to say they have not heard anything about these decisions.
There is consensus in one area. Regardless of race and age, Americans support requiring police officers to wear video recorders to monitor their policing procedures.
“These national poll results decidedly point to white and African Americans seeing similar events through a very different lens,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.
- 43% of Americans say the grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York have decreased their confidence in the legal system. 32% think it has made no difference in their opinion while 17% say it has increased their confidence in it. However, a wide racial divide exists. Twice the proportion of African Americans, 70%, compared with 35% of whites, report decreased trust in the legal system. Americans under 30 years old, 56%, are more likely than older Americans to report disappointment in the American legal system.
- Nearly all Americans, 92%, have heard, at least, something about the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island. This includes 62% who have heard a lot about the outcomes, 14% who have heard quite a bit about them, and 16% who know something about these decisions. Only 7% have not heard about these rulings. 18% of Americans under 30 have no knowledge of the grand jury decisions.
- A plurality of residents, 46%, disapproves of how President Barack Obama has handled these grand jury decisions, and 30% approve. Nearly one in four, 24%, is unsure. Nearly half of white Americans, 49%, disapprove of President Obama’s reaction, and a plurality of African Americans, 46%, also disapproves of how he has handled the situation.
Law Enforcement in the United States
- More than seven in ten residents, 72%, have either a great deal, 41%, or a fair amount, 31%, of confidence in their local police to refrain from using excessive force on a suspect. 12% have some trust in law enforcement to use an appropriate level of force, and 13% have very little confidence in them to do so. By close to four to one, whites, 50%, are more likely than African Americans, 13%, to trust officers to not cross the line when dealing with a suspect. 29% of Latinos share this view. Americans under 30 years old, 21%, are more likely than their older counterparts to report they have very little confidence in law enforcement to use appropriate force when apprehending a suspect.
- When it comes to whether Americans think law enforcement applies different standards to whites and blacks, 47% of residents believe two sets of rules apply while 44% think everyone is held to the same standard. But, more than eight in ten African Americans, 82%, believe police have different standards based on race while 51% of whites disagree.
- 69% of U.S. residents report they have either a great deal, 44%, or fair amount, 25%, of confidence in police officers in their community to treat blacks and whites equally. 11% have some trust in them to do so, and 16% have very little confidence in them to act in this regard. While 52% of whites express a great deal of confidence in their local police not to discriminate, only 12% of African Americans share this view. Among Latinos, 29% have a high degree of trust in police officials to treat blacks and whites equally. When compared with older Americans, residents under 30 years old, 34%, are less likely to have the view that law enforcement officials treat blacks and whites the same.
- More than three in four Americans, 77%, say they have, at least, a fair amount of confidence in their local police to do a good job enforcing the law. This includes 48% who have a great amount of trust and 29% who have a fair amount of confidence in their local police officials to enforce the law. 10% have some trust in police officers to carry out their job while 12% have very little confidence in them to do so. 55% of whites, compared with 17% of African Americans express a great deal of confidence in the police to do a good job enforcing the law. 41% of Latinos share this view.
- Regardless of race and age, most Americans, 76%, think police officers should be required to wear video recorders to monitor their policing. 17% oppose this idea.