WASHINGTON (AP) — Whites in the United States approve of police officers hitting people in far greater numbers than blacks and Hispanics do, at a time when the country is struggling to deal with police use of deadly force against men of color, according to a major American trend survey.
Seven of 10 whites polled, or 70 percent, said they can imagine a situation in which they would approve of a police officer striking an adult male citizen, according to the 2014 General Social Survey, a long-running measurement of trends in American opinions. When asked the same question – Are there any situations you can imagine in which you would approve of a policeman striking an adult male citizen? – 42 percent of blacks and 38 percent of Hispanics said they could.
These results come as Americans grapple with trust between law enforcement and minority communities after a series of incidents, including the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner on Staten Island, New York, both black men. Thousands of people protested in the streets last year after the deaths of 18-year-old Brown and 43-year-old Garner, who gasped “I can’t breathe” as police arrested him for allegedly selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. But the survey shows the gap between whites, blacks and Hispanics long predates the recent incidents.
The poll results don’t surprise experts on American attitudes toward police, who say experiences and history with law enforcement shape opinions about the use of violence by officers.
“Whites are significantly more likely to give police officers the benefit of the doubt, either because they have never had an altercation with a police officer or because they tend to see the police as allies in the fight against crime,” said Ronald Weitzer, a George Washington University sociology professor who has studied race and policing in the U.S. and internationally.
However, blacks and Hispanics “are more cautious on this issue because of their personal experiences and/or the historical treatment their groups have experienced at the hands of the police, which is only recapitulated in recent disputed killings,” he said.
The General Social Survey is conducted by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. Because of its long-running and comprehensive set of questions about the public, it is a highly regarded source of data about social trends. Numbers from the 2014 survey came out last month, and an analysis of its findings on attitudes toward police and the criminal justice system was conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the General Social Survey.
Deep racial divides exist in other law enforcement areas as well:
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Article written by Jesse J. Holland , Associated Press, Apr 4, 2015
Curated from hosted.ap.org
Another example where it is evident that these attitudes are indeed prevalent is the 2012 brutal beating death of Kelly Thomas in Fullerton, California.
The officers who took part in the beating were acquitted by a local jury in spite of the pictures they saw, witness testimony, and months of protests and deep divisions in that small college town.