More whites in US ap­prove of po­lice strik­ing men


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 Michael Brown in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, and Eric Gar­ner on Staten Is­land, New York, both black men who were un­armed when they were killed by white po­lice of­fi­cers.

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 dates 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

pre- 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.

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