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Holland writes: "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."

People demonstrate across the street from the Ferguson Police Department. (photo: Jeff Roberson)
People demonstrate across the street from the Ferguson Police Department. (photo: Jeff Roberson)

Poll: White Americans Far More Accepting of Police Violence

By Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press

06 April 15


hites 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:

— A larger number of blacks could approve police striking a murder suspect who is being questioned: 24 percent, compared to 18 percent of Hispanics and 12 percent of whites.

— At more than half of whites, 69 percent, and half of Hispanics approve of police hitting suspects trying to escape from custody but only 42 percent of blacks approve.

— Two-thirds, or 66 percent, of whites say they favor the death penalty for convicted murderers, while 44 percent of blacks and 48 percent of Hispanics agree.

— Almost everyone seemed to approve of police officers hitting suspects back when attacked with fists, but whites again outpaced blacks and Hispanics with their approval. Nine in 10 whites approved of police hitting a person when attacked by fists, with 74 percent of blacks and Hispanics agreeing.

Charles R. Epp, a University of Kansas professor and author of the book about race and police stops, said the majority of whites believe they are going to get "reasonable and fair" treatment from officers, and that encounters ending in violence are caused by the suspect.

"My strong sense is that African Americans and Hispanics have too often experienced or have heard of experiences of police officers acting unfairly, so they're less willing to support the use of force by police officers," Epp said. "They're not sure it will be used fairly."

There were areas of agreement: Similar small percentages of whites, blacks and Hispanics approved of police hitting suspects for using vulgar or obscene language toward an officer (9 percent for whites, 7 percent for blacks and 10 percent for Hispanics). Similar percentages agreed there is too little spending on law enforcement (47 percent of whites; 49 percent of blacks; 40 percent of Hispanics). your social media marketing partner


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+5 # tswhiskers 2015-04-06 11:01
Whites can afford to approve of police violence since they are seldom the victims of it. I no longer wonder why blacks feel it necessary to teach their kids to be wary of the police. Ferguson et al make it very clear. The incidents I've seen on the news show cops hitting black "suspects" with no hesitation and no fear as they are usually well backed up by other cops. I have always assumed that cops were given some training to help them evaluate the potential violence of criminal perpetrators, but that seems not to be the case. Their training seems to consist of "hit (shoot) first and evaluate later" where blacks are involved. How is it that cops are so much "better" at judging the violent nature of white criminals than black? Some of us would like to know.
+1 # djnova50 2015-04-06 12:23
If the question is so general as to ask if a person can imagine any time when it would be okay for a police officer to hit another person, I imagine that a lot of people will be able to answer in the affirmative.

However, if the questions are more specific, I wonder how that would change the answers.
-7 # MidwestTom 2015-04-06 13:16
I was taught respect for the law early on. My dad made it very clear that if I was ever in jail he would not be in any hurry to get me out. I doubt that boys raised in single parent households hear that with the same authority.
+2 # NAVYVET 2015-04-06 18:49
The lack of love from your father goes a long way to explaining you, Tom.
0 # NAVYVET 2015-04-06 18:48
This is an eerie recapitulation of the British manipulation of the Presbyterian population in Ireland. The United Irish Rebellion of 1798 (Wolfe Tone's rebellion) was based on cooperation among people in Ireland who wanted a country free of England's control. The rebels were largely from the largest disenfranchised and degraded religious faiths--Catholi cs, Presbyterians & Unitarians--who came together (with arms & aid from France's government and US donors) in the United Irish Rebellion of 1798. It might have succeeded had the French fleet not been destroyed.

Afterward Ireland's plantation absentee landlords in the English government were terrified, and decided to break them apart. Catholics and Unitarians continued to be penalized, while the Presbyterian population was favored. I think the history of Ireland plainly shows the pernicious results of Divide and Conquer, and how easy it is to sucker and co-opt a "favored" group to act against their own interests.

Jim Crow laws were first practiced in Ireland (all the way back to the 13th century) and have been used in the US to separate Northern Euro whites from African Americans and waves of immigrants from other sources, by all sorts of ploys from phony "science" to economic advantages. The greatest advantages, of course, are reaped by the oligarchy in power!

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