The Washington Post

African Americans are very concerned about what’s happening in Ferguson. Whites are not.

Protesters run when the police shoot tear gas in Ferguson, Mo., Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014. Protests over the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer have entered their second week. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, J.B. Forbes)

The situation in Ferguson, Mo., has led to vastly different reactions between black and white Americans.

A new Pew Research Center poll shows many more African Americans than whites say:

  1. The shooting of an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer "raises important issues about race" (80 percent of blacks and 37 percent of whites)
  2. The police response to the shooting has gone too far (65 percent black, 33 percent white)
  3. They have no or not much confidence in the investigation into the shooting (76 percent black, 33 percent white)

As we wrote last week, these kinds of numbers were all too predictable, as they have been repeated over and over in high-profile situations like those involving O.J. Simpson, Rodney King and Trayvon Martin -- in large part because black and white Americans have vastly different views of the biases of  the American criminal justice system.

The most interesting data point in the new Pew poll, though, is that even at this very early juncture, Americans as a whole see the shooting of Brown as more of a racial issue than the shooting of Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.


While similar proportions of blacks saw both situations as bringing racial issues to light (about eight in 10), whites are more likely to see race as a key subplot in Ferguson (37 percent) than in Martin's case (28 percent). While 60 percent of whites said race received more attention than it deserved after Zimmerman's not-guilty verdict in July 2013, just 47 percent say the same of what's happening in Ferguson.

And it's not just a racial split; it's also a partisan one. While the gap between black and white is 43 points, it's actually slightly larger -- 46 points -- between Republicans and Democrats. Just 22 percent of Republicans see racial issues being brought up, 68 percent of Democrats say the same.

While those numbers could change in the weeks and months ahead as more is known about the shooting, it's pretty clear that this issue is again causing plenty of racial unease nationwide.

And potentially even more so than Trayvon Martin.

President Obama announced Monday that Attorney General Eric Holder will travel to Ferguson, Mo., to meet with law enforcement investigating the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a police officer. (AP)
Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.



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Philip Bump · August 18, 2014

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