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Zimmerman Verdict Sows Racial Divisions, Arms Conservative Media

As the George Zimmerman acquittal and President Obama’s speech last week in reaction to it are giving racial antagonists in the conservative media like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity plenty of ammunition to sow more controversy, two new polls demonstrate exactly how split the nation is along racial lines.

While 86 percent of black people are dissatisfied with Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center, just 30 percent of whites were dissatisfied—and a much higher percentage, 49 percent, said they were satisfied with the verdict.

Just 5 percent of blacks were satisfied with the verdict, according to the Pew Center poll of 1,480 adults conducted July 17-21th.

In another poll sponsored by NBC News/Wall Street Journal, it is clear that race relations in the U.S. have taken a hit in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict.

In response to the acquittal, 71 percent of African-Americans and 48 percent of Democrats say the trial decreased their confidence in the legal system. But only 24 percent of whites and just 13 percent of Republicans say the same thing. As for Latinos, 35 percent said the trial decreased their confidence in the legal system.

When asked to respond to the famous line by Dr. Martin Luther King, just 19 percent of African-Americans and 46 percent of Democrats think Americans are judged by the ‘content of their character’ rather than by their skin color. By comparison, 54 percent of Latinos, 59 percent of whites and 65 percent of Republicans believe this.

In addition, 38 percent of African-Americans say that race relations in the U.S. are good, compared to 52 percent of whites and 60 percent of Latinos.

“This is about as polarizing as it gets,” says Democratic pollster Jay Campbell and Republican pollster Bill McIntruff who helped conduct the NBC poll of 1,000 adults on July 17-21.

Media commentators were still taking shots at each other and President Obama, who said last Friday “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” Fox News’ Sean Hannity confronted Juan Williams over whether President Obama’s comments on the trial mean he has any blame in the division that has occurred. When Williams started to talk about race, Hannity interrupted to say there was “no race in this case.”

Hannity and former Rep. Allen West said it was outrageous that the media and major civil rights leaders seemingly don’t care about other issues of crime and punishment in the black community. Williams agreed on this point, saying the media has completely ignored the “carnage” of black-on-black crime, and said gangster rappers ought to be called out for “corrupting our kids.”

This line of attack has been consistent in the conservative media, strangely accusing black people of not caring about black-on-black crime and the corrupting influence of hip hop culture—when they are both topics that the black community talks about so much that it borders on obsession.

Bill O’Reilly also went in, accusing the President of ignoring the “real problems” facing black people, including something he called “gangsta culture.”

But last night, MSNBC host Chris Hayes, on his show “All In with Chris Hayes,” blasted O’Reilly’s “super-racist rant” and said that if O’Reilly is any indication, the national conversation should be about the “problems with white culture.”

“He, Bill O’Reilly, only wants to create a better situation for blacks,” Hayes said. “According to him, it’s liberals, people like you and me, who are ignoring the problems facing African-Americans.”

He then played a clip of O’Reilly mocking those who say the criminal justice system is unfair because of the disproportionate incarceration of black men for “selling drugs.”

Hayes offered statistics showing the racial disparity O’Reilly mocked, and countered that “everything he’s saying is easily debunked with about 20 minutes of googling.”

“That’s not really the point,” he continued. “The real reason Bill O’Reilly peddles this stuff is because it gives a cheap crack-like high to the old fearful white audience that watches Bill O’Reilly, and gives Fox News its power, also known as the Republican base. These are the folks Bill O’Reilly is feeding when he laments not being able to criticize black culture.”

Hayes accused O’Reilly of having a limited view of black culture, referring to O’Reilly’s 2007 account of a dinner with Al Sharpton at Harlem’s Sylvia’s restaurant.

“There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming, ‘M-Fer, I want more iced tea,’” O’Reilly said at the time. “You know, I mean, everybody was — it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn’t any kind of craziness at all.”

Hayes said, “If Bill O’Reilly is representative of white culture, with his stereotyping and his victim-blaming and domineering tone, then I’m pretty sure we need to start having a national conversation about the problems with white culture.”

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