WASHINGTON – Blacks and whites see the events in Ferguson, Mo., through starkly different lenses, a new nationwide survey shows.
The poll from the Pew Research Center, released Monday, shows that Americans overall are closely divided on whether the shooting by police of unarmed young black man Michael Brown in Ferguson raised “important issues about race.”
But that overall division comes in large part because of sharply differing views by blacks and whites.
Blacks, by 4-1 ratio, said events in Ferguson did raise important racial issues. Whites were more closely divided, with 37 percent saying the case raised important racial questions, while 47 percent said they thought race was “getting more attention than it deserved.”
Similarly, blacks by more than 3-to-1 said they thought the police reaction to events in Ferguson had “gone too far,” while whites divided almost evenly on that question, with 33 percent saying the police had gone too far, 32 percent saying the police reaction had been about right and 35 percent saying they did not know.
Whites had far more confidence than blacks about the official investigations into the shooting, with about half of whites, but only about 20 percent of blacks, saying they had at least a “fair amount” of confidence. Roughly three-quarters of blacks said they had “not too much” or no confidence at all in the investigations.
Those disparate views reflect frequently documented differences in how blacks and whites see issues of race. But the gap in perceptions of Ferguson was notably smaller than the racial differences Pew found last year in reactions to the jury verdict in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the black 17-year-old who was killed by George Zimmerman, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer of white and Latino heritage in Florida.
Black perceptions of both events were quite similar, with about 80 percent of African-Americans saying both cases had raised important racial issues.
But white perceptions of Zimmerman’s acquittal by a Florida jury were more starkly in conflict with those of blacks. In the Florida case, whites by 28 percent to 60 percent said that race was getting too much attention, a much larger margin than the division of 37 percent to 47 percent white opinion regarding Ferguson.
The different responses to the two cases may be a function of time, however. The unrest in Ferguson is now in its second week, but in the Florida case, Zimmerman’s acquittal came after almost a year and a half of racially charged debate over the shooting.
In addition to the racial divide, reactions to Ferguson also split along familiar partisan lines.
Democrats were far more likely than Republicans to say that the shooting raises important racial issues. Among white Democrats, for example, only 25 percent said the racial issues were getting more attention than they deserved. Among white Republicans, 60 percent said they believed that this was the case.