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A Tale of Two Cities? Blacks, Whites Sharply Disagree About Ferguson

Monday, August 18, 2014

The shooting incident in a St. Louis suburb is still under investigation, and just over half of Americans are not sure yet whether the police officer involved is guilty of murdering a black teenager. But most blacks have already made up their minds that the policeman should be found guilty. Blacks are also more convinced that the violent protests since the shooting occurred are mostly legitimate outrage rather than criminal activity.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 23% of all American Adults believe the police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri should be found guilty of murder. Twenty-six percent (26%) think he was acting in self-defense. Fifty-one percent (51%) are undecided. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Fifty-seven percent (57%) of black adults, however, think police officer Darren Wilson should be found guilty of murder, compared to just 17% of whites and 24% of other minority Americans. Most whites (56%) and a plurality (49%) of other minorities are undecided.

A similar racial divide could be seen throughout the trial of George Zimmerman who shot and killed a black teenager in Florida in 2012 and was subsequently found not guilty in a jury trial.

When it comes to the mob violence that has occurred in Ferguson since the shooting, 25% of Americans think it has been primarily legitimate outrage over what happened. But 52% think it has been mostly criminals taking advantage of the situation. Another 23% are not sure. The Missouri State Police and the state National Guard have been called in to deal with the ongoing violence in Ferguson.

While most whites (54%) and other minority Americans (53%) believe the violence has been chiefly criminals taking advantage of the situation, just 35% of blacks agree. Slightly more (41%) think the mob violence has been primarily legitimate outrage, a view shared by 24% of whites and 21% of other minorities. Roughly a quarter of all three groups are undecided.

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The national telephone survey of 1,000 Adults was conducted by Rasmussen Reports on August 15-16, 2014. The margin of sampling error for the survey is +/- 2 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Fieldwork for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology

But Americans across the board give mixed reviews to the police response to the mob violence in Ferguson and also question the militarization of the local police on display in the days since the shooting. Twenty-seven percent (27%) think the police response was good or excellent, while just as many (28%) rate it as poor.

Men and those 40 and over give the police response higher positive marks than women and younger voters do. Blacks are more than twice as likely as whites and other minority adults to rate the police response as poor.

Thirty-one percent (31%) of all Americans favor the use of military-grade weapons and equipment by their local police, but a plurality (46%) is opposed. A sizable 23% are not sure. Adults of all races have similar reservations about the show of police force on display in Ferguson this past week.

Fifty-four percent (54%) of Democrats and 50% of those not affiliated with either major party oppose the use of military-grade weapons and equipment by the police. A plurality (45%) of Republicans thinks it's a good idea.

Just 19% of all voters think it would be good for America if only government officials like police officers and the military were allowed to have guns. More than ever (72%) think that would be bad for the nation.

Sixty-eight percent (68%) of Americans have been following recent news reports about the police shooting in the St. Louis suburb, but only 30% say they’ve been following Very Closely. Blacks are following much more closely than whites and other minority adults.

Only 34% of Americans now rate race relations in the United States as good or excellent. Just 31% think those relations are getting better. Only 16% of voters think life for young black Americans has gotten better since President Obama’s election in November 2008, while 22% believe it’s gotten worse. 

Forty-six percent (46%) think the U.S. justice system is fair to black and Hispanic Americans, but 36% disagree. However, 80% of black voters think the system is unfair to minorities.

In some areas of the country, police officers wear body-worn cameras (BWCs) mainly to monitor their practices and interactions with the public. Just over half of all voters nationwide like the idea of police officers wearing cameras, but a plurality thinks it wouldn’t have much impact on crime.

Eighteen percent (18%) of Americans think the tactics used by police officers where they live are too harsh, but nearly as many (15%) think those tactics aren’t harsh enough. Most (57%) say the tactics used by local law enforcement are about right. Fifty-one percent (51%) think America needs more cops.

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

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