December 15, 2014
12/15: Ferguson and Beyond: Race Permeates Views of Law Enforcement
Following the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri not to indict a white police officer who killed Michael Brown, the discussion, now, turns to whether or not the federal government should bring civil rights charges against that police officer. Americans’ views on the issue fall along a racial divide.
Three in four African Americans nationally believe a federal civil rights suit should be brought against the officer while more than two-thirds of whites disagree. When it comes to protests following incidents such as the fatal shooting in Ferguson, nearly seven in ten whites say these actions bring negative attention to the debate about race’s role in law enforcement. A plurality of African Americans, however, believes these protests shed positive light on the issue.
African Americans and whites do agree in one area. Regardless of race, more than six in ten Americans believe Michael Brown’s stepfather should not be charged with inciting a riot based on his reaction to the grand jury decision.
On the broader issue of the law enforcement process, race drives the discussion. While whites are more likely to describe incidents like those in Ferguson and Staten Island, New York as isolated occurrences, African Americans are more likely to say these events are indicative of a larger problem. Whites are more than twice as likely as African Americans to have a great deal of confidence in their community police to gain the trust of local residents and to treat blacks and whites equally. The proportion of whites who express a high level of confidence in local law enforcement to protect them from violent crime also outnumbers the proportion of African Americans who share this view.
“When it comes to reactions to the events in Ferguson and Staten Island, the racial divide is wide,” says Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.
- 57% of Americans do not think the federal government should bring civil rights charges against the white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri who killed an unarmed man. 34% believe the officer should face charges, and 9% are unsure. African Americans, 75%, are much more likely than whites, 23%, to report a civil rights suit should be filed. 50% of Latinos think civil rights action against the officer should be taken.
- More than six in ten residents, 62%, think the protests following the Ferguson and Staten Island decisions bring negative attention to these issues. 21% believe they have a positive impact while 12% say they have no effect at all. While 68% of whites and 59% of Latinos believe the protests bring negative attention to the issues, only 35% of African Americans agree. A plurality of African Americans, 43%, think the protests shed a positive light on the matter.
- Many residents, 64%, say Michael Brown’s stepfather should not be charged with inciting a riot in the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who killed Brown. 29% report he should face charges. 78% of African Americans do not think the actions of Brown’s stepfather warrant criminal action. 64% of whites and 60% of Latinos agree.
- 53% of Americans think the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island are isolated cases and do not reflect an overall problem with the justice system when it comes to race and police officers. 41% of residents say these decisions are part of a larger issue. 76% of African Americans, compared with 33% of whites, report there is a problem with the justice system when it comes to law enforcement and race. 56% of Latinos share this view.
- 43% of Americans have a great amount of confidence in their local police to gain the trust of local residents. 31% have a fair amount of confidence in law enforcement to do so, and 12% have some degree of confidence in them. 13% have very little confidence in the police to gain the trust of members of their community. 50% of whites have a great deal of confidence in the police to gain the trust of those they serve compared with only 22% of African Americans.
- When it comes to the confidence Americans have in their local police to treat blacks and whites equally, 41% have a great deal of confidence in them. 30% have a fair amount of trust in local law enforcement to do so, and 11% have some. 16% of residents have very little confidence in local police to promote racial equality. Whites, 49%, are more than twice as likely as African Americans, 22%, to think blacks and whites are treated equally by the police.
- A plurality of U.S. residents, 45%, have confidence in their local police to protect them from violent crime in their community. 33% have a fair amount of trust in them to do so while 9% have some confidence in them. 12% of Americans have very little trust in law enforcement to keep them safe. Nearly half of white residents, 49%, compared with 30% of African Americans, have a great deal of confidence in their local police to keep them safe from violent crime. 36% of Latinos have a similar level of trust in police to protect them.
- Registered voters divide over President Barack Obama’s handling of race relations. 47% disapprove, and 44% approve. Looking at race, 54% of white voters disapprove while 57% of non-white voters approve.
- A plurality of Americans, 43%, thinks it helps race relations that President Obama is African American. 33% say it hurts, and a notable 24% are unsure. While 44% of whites and 46% of Latinos say the president’s race is a benefit to race relations, a plurality of African Americans, 42%, consider it to be detrimental.