Go to Main Story

Go to National Section

Go to Home Page


Views on the King Verdict

Sunday, May 3, 1992; Page A26
The Washington Post

An overwhelming majority of Americans, both black and white, believe that the four Los Angeles police officers found not guilty of beating Rodney G. King should have been found guilty.

And an equally large majority says the U.S. Justice Department should file criminal charges against the officers, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted Thursday.

The survey found that two out of three persons questioned believed that the accused officers committed a crime in the King beating. Among whites, six in 10 said the officers were guiltya view shared by nine out of 10 blacks interviewed.

Younger people were more likely than older respondents to believe the officers should have been found guilty, and to say the officers should be charged with federal crimes. Among 18-to-30-year-olds, 77 percent said the officers committed a crime, a view expressed by 57 percent of those older than 60.

But the survey also found that blacks and whites differed sharply on other aspects of the case. Three in four blacks questioned agreed that the King verdict "shows that blacks cannot get justice in this country." Only one out of four whites agreed.

Six in 10 whites and more than nine out of 10 blacks said the Justice Department should file criminal charges against the four officers for violating King's civil rights.

The survey also confirmed the intense public interest in the trial and the King verdict. According to the poll, 99 percent of those questioned, both blacks and whites, said they had read or heard about the verdict. And more than nine out of 10 said they had seen portions of the videotape of King's beating.

Q. Based on what you know, is it your opinion that the police officers in the Rodney King case should have been found guilty of a crime, or innocent of a crime, or don't you know enough about it to say?

All Whites Blacks
Guilty 68% 64% 92%
Innocent 4% 5% 1%
Don't Know 28% 31% 7%

Q. Do you agree or disagree: The verdict in the Rodney King case shows that blacks cannot get justice in this country.

All Whites Blacks
Agree 32% 25% 78%
Disagree 59% 66% 19%
Don't Know 9% 9% 3%

Q.Do you think the United States Justice Department should or should not charge these police officers with the crime of violating Rodney King's civil rights?

All Whites Blacks
Should charge officers 69% 63% 97%
Should not charge officers 14% 17% 1%
Don't Know 17% 20% 2%


Most blacks and whites predict that the verdict will seriously damage relations between the races. According to the poll, nearly six in 10 whites and eight in 10 blacks say they expect the jury's innocent verdicts will have a "major" impact on race relations in this country. Fewer than one in 10 expected that the verdict would have no effect, according to the poll.

Many Americans, regardless of race, also questioned whether the rioting that followed Wednesday's not guilty verdicts would harm racial attitudes. According to the survey, about half of all blacks and whites questioned agreed that the disturbances would make whites "less sympathetic" to black problems.

Overall, the verdict appears to have significantly increased racial tension. According to the poll, 77 percent of those questioned characterized race relations as only fair or poor, a view shared by 66 percent of those interviewed in a Post poll conducted just two months ago.

One other ominous note: Big majorities of both races acknowledged that racial prejudice remains a problem among both blacks and whites.

Q. As you may know, a jury on Wednesday found the police officers innocent. Do you think the verdict in this case will do major damage to race relations in this country, minor damage, or not much damage at all?

All Whites Blacks
Major damage to race relations 62% 58% 80%
Minor damage to race relations 26% 29% 13%
Not much damage at all 8% 9% 3%
Don't know 4% 4% 4%

Q. Do you agree or disagree: The rioting after the King verdict will make whites less sympathetic to the problems of blacks.

All Whites Blacks
Agree 48% 47% 52%
Disagree 44% 45% 40%
Don't know 8% 8% 8%


Do blacks and other minorities receive equal treatment by the criminal justice system?

Yes, said about half of all whites questioned.

No, said nine out of 10 black respondents.

Nor do blacks believe that they receive equal treatment at the hands of police. More than eight in 10 blacks interviewed disagreed when asked if blacks receive "equal treatment as whites from police"up from seven in 10 in a Post-ABC News survey conducted two years ago. Among whites, about half said police treat blacks and whites the same way, unchanged from the earlier poll.

Eight in 10 blacks also said the federal government only pays attention to black concerns "when blacks resort to violent demonstrations or riots," a view shared by four in 10 whites.

Q. Do you agree or disagree: These days police in most cities treat blacks as fairly as they treat whites.

All Whites Blacks
Agree 41% 47% 1%
Disagree 47% 40% 85%
Don't know 12% 13% 4%

Q. Do you think blacks and other minorities receive equal treatment as whites in the criminal justice system, or not?

All Whites Blacks
Agree 39% 46% 8%
Disagree 50% 43% 89%
Don't know 11% 11% 3%

Q. Do you agree or disagree: The only time the federal government really pays attention to black problems is when blacks resort to violent demonstrations or riots.

All Whites Blacks
Agree 45% 39% 79%
Disagree 46% 50% 18%
Don't know 9% 11% 3%

Figures based on telephone interviews nationally with 606 randomly selected adults, including an oversample of 154 blacks, conducted overnight on April 30. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus five percentage points, and is slightly larger for the white subsample. Margin of sampling error for the black subsample is plus or minus eight percentage points. Sampling error is, however, only one of many sources of error in public opinion polls. In this survey, the practical difficulties of conducting a poll in a single night represent another potential source of error. Interviewing was conducted by Chilton Research of Radnor, Pa.

Richard Morin and Sharon Warden of Polling Staff.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

Back to the top


Navigation image map
Home page Site Index Search Help! Home page Site Index Search Help!