At least in St. Louis County, Missouri, the divide is severe enough for a substantial majority of white people to read and watch weeks of detailed coverage of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shooting unarmed Black teen Michael Brown multiple times, apparently even after Brown’s hands were raised in surrender, and concluding that Wilson was justified in his actions.
A full 62 percent of white respondents in a Remington Research Group poll said the shooting of Brown was justified, while 38 percent of whites said the shooting wasn’t justified. In contrast, only 35 percent of African-Americans said the shooting was justified, while 65 percent said it was not.
The Remington poll of 604 St. Louis County residents revealed in stark detail the racial schism that exists in the county on issues concerning law enforcement, race and Michael Brown.
Was Brown targeted by law enforcement because of his race? In response to that question, just 23 percent of white respondents said Yes, while 77 percent said No. For African-Americans, 64 percent said Brown was indeed targeted because of his race, and 36 percent said he wasn’t.
The poll results are a dramatic reminder of how differently questions of race are seen through the eyes of whites and African-Americans — making it close to impossible to have meaningful cross-racial discussions about race and racism in America. When Blacks allege racism, whites are quick to say “no.” When whites claim a lack of racial malice, Blacks raise a skeptical eyebrow.
The question with the biggest racial divide was one that asked whether Wilson should be arrested and charged with a crime for killing Brown. A staggering 72 percent of white respondents said No, with just 28 percent saying Yes. In an almost complete reversal, 71 percent of Black respondents said Yes, while just 29 percent said No. The two communities couldn’t have been more different on that key question.
Those numbers certainly bode well for Wilson, whose fate is currently being adjudicated by a St. Louis County grand jury that consists of nine whites and three Blacks. If all nine white members vote No on indicting Wilson and the three Blacks vote Yes, the grand jury rules dictate that Wilson would have enough votes to walk free.
Asked whether St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch will be able to fairly and impartially prosecute a case against the police officer who shot and killed Brown, 71 percent of whites said Yes, while 60 percent of Blacks said No.
Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, despite weeks of detailed reports of how much Blacks historically have been targeted by police in Ferguson and St. Louis County, still a substantial majority of whites, 61 percent, don’t believe African-Americans are targeted by law enforcement because of their race. The media coverage hasn’t managed to dent their confidence in the police. Perhaps Remington should have asked them which outlets they rely on for their news — if most had answered Fox News, their responses would make total sense.
In contrast, 70 percent of African-Americans believe they are targeted because of race.
Speaking of the media, respondents were asked whether the media have made the situation in Ferguson better or worse. While 81 percent of white respondents said “worse” (12 percent said the media made things better, while 7 percent said the media made no difference), 50 percent of Blacks said “worse” (while 37 percent said better and 13 percent said no difference).
In perhaps the worst news in the poll for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, there was harmonious agreement between the races on the question of the job he is doing. Asked how they viewed Nixon’s handling of the situation in Ferguson, 62 percent of whites and 70 percent of Blacks said “unfavorable” (while 38 percent of whites and 30 percent of Blacks said “favorable”).
Agreement, at last.