African Americans see less harmony with police — and also with whites


Protesters blocking Florissant Road raise their hands after being approached by police officers who asked them to stop blocking the street in front of the Ferguson police department on Sunday, Aug. 10. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Robert Cohen)

Nearly half (46 percent) of African Americans say they have "very little" confidence in the police to treat blacks and whites equally, according to a new USA Today/Pew Research Center poll.

As one might expect, that's higher than the number of whites who say the same (12 percent). There is, after all, a wide gulf between how blacks and whites view police and also the criminal justice system in general.

As one might not expect, though, Pew's numbers also suggests blacks' views of the police have become worse in recent years.

The 46 percent figure is up from 31 percent seven years ago and 34 percent in 2009.

 

Such might be expected given the news is heavily focused on the racial tensions in Ferguson, Mo., and whether a white police officer went too far when he shot and killed a black 18-year old, Michael Brown, two weeks ago. Outside of that context, the number who have "very little" confidence in the even-handedness of the police might not have risen like it did.

But that's not the only shift that the poll shows.

It also shows 64 percent of African Americans think blacks and whites get along "very well" or "pretty well" -- down from 76 percent five years ago. That's even as relations between blacks and Hispanics as well as whites and Hispanics have been seen as improving over those same spans.

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That's not terribly surprising, given blacks' views of their relationship with whites have been oscillating for a while now.

Gallup polling from last year showed African Americans' views of black-white relations are still down from a high of 70 percent "good" in 2001, but they had recovered from just a few years ago, when that number hit a low of 58 percent.

 

In the new Pew poll in particular, the sample size for African Americans is small -- only about 150 people -- so it's tough to draw too many hard and fast conclusions. But the 12-point shifts on blacks' feelings about their relationships with police and whites are outside the margin of error.

That doesn't mean they are necessarily huge shifts -- we'll have to await more data -- but this poll suggests Ferguson might be hurting the climate of race relations in the United States.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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