There has been a huge shift in the percentage of white Americans who think different races are treated unequally under U.S. law, according to a new Washington Post-ABC poll released Thursday.
The poll surveyed 1,103 adults between April 5 and 8, comparing the results to a similar poll in 1997. The 2012 poll showed 44 percent of whites believed everyone received equal treatment under the law, compared with 61 percent in 1997. By contrast, the same number among African Americans dropped from 19 percent in 1997 to 10 percent on Sunday.
The percentage of whites who believe minorities are treated equally in the criminal justice system is at its lowest point in 20 years, according to the poll. The next lowest recorded percentage in this category was seen in 1992. That year also saw the lowest percentage of African Americans who believed in equal treatment, two points lower at 8 percent.
The police beating of African American Rodney King in Los Angeles in March 1991 is the most likely reason for the low numbers among both whites and blacks the following year. The beating, and the subsequent riots that broke out L.A., put a strain on race relations for years afterwards.
However, the current low numbers are most likely due to the February shooting death of African American teen Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in Sanford, FL. Martin's death has re-inflamed race tensions in America, especially after news spread that Zimmerman was never charged with a crime even though he confessed to the shooting.
The poll also asked respondents about the Martin case and whether they thought the shooting was justified. Only 4 percent of all respondents said it was (1 percent of African Americans and 5 percent of whites), while 51 percent said they didn't know enough to say (19 and 56 percent respectively).
Zimmerman, whose mother is Latina, claims he shot the teen in self-defense. Police state he was never arrested because Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law allows one to use deadly force if you feel your life is in danger, even if you could retreat. Of poll respondents, 26 percent of African Americans said they supported such a law while 55 percent of whites said they did. Of total respondents, 50 percent support the law and 46 percent oppose it.
After a lengthly process and widespread media coverage, Special Prosecutor Angela Corey announced on Thursday to charge Zimmerman for second-degree murder in the Martin shooting (first-degree murder requires a grand jury in Florida). Zimmerman subsequently turned himself into police outside Orlando.
Zimmerman made his first court appearance Thursday afternoon, while May 29 was set as his arraignment date. Zimmerman's new lawyer, Mark O'Mara said his client would plead not guilty to the murder charge and would be seeking a bond hearing soon.
by RTT Staff Writer
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