Trayvon Martin case: Polls reveal depth of racial divide (+video)
Two polls conducted after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin reaffirm the dramatic divide between white and black Americans, including over whether the trial raised urgent issues.
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“White America believes the US is colorblind, and the extension of this belief system is that the rule of law is applied equally to everyone regardless of race,” says Dr. Charles Gallagher, chair of the sociology department at La Salle University in Philadelphia. “Black America’s experience with race-based discrimination, as President Obama pointed out, is not an academic discussion but a lived experience.”Skip to next paragraph
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Some of the disparity is also reflected in partisan differences among whites, however. Among white Republicans, 70 percent say they approve of the Zimmerman verdict, compared with only 30 percent of white Democrats, according to The Washington Post/ABC News poll. Among all white respondents, a third said the shooting was justified and a third said it was not. (The other third didn’t know enough to have an opinion.)
But many white and some black observers have argued that radically differing experiences within the criminal justice system simply reflect radically differing levels of crime among blacks and whites. This debate remains the focus of New York’s controversial stop-and-frisk laws, a tactic police use overwhelmingly in minority neighborhoods, but rarely in white neighborhoods.
“A number of my African American colleagues are like, well, what we should really be focusing on is black-on-black crime ... [because] what happened to him, what George Zimmerman did to him, happens very rarely in black communities,” says Mr. Spence.
“But what that approach neglects is the fact that it took a national level protest to get charges brought up, even. I mean, this is how insane it is: When Trayvon Martin was murdered, the police didn’t even look around the neighborhood to see if someone was missing a kid.” (The Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty of second-degree murder and found the killing a justified action of self-defense.)
As passions flare throughout the country, and the views of blacks and whites seem to reflect profoundly different experiences, there is a mixture of optimism and despair about conversations about race.
“I’m pretty dubious about it,” says David Mark, editor-in-chief of the online political site, Politix. “I think the best thing that can happen is people live their lives, they try to be open to people around them. But a lot of really hardened racial attitudes take generations to dissipate, and even with a lot of progress over the years, we’re far from where we want to be. But I don’t really think just talking about it is really going to help at all – in fact, it may open more wounds, and I just don’t know what can be done on a national scale about it.”
Others hope to heed the words of Obama, to be a little bit more honest, and to wring out as much bias as possible.
“What I’m saying is, as somebody who is white but hopefully concerned with the whole human mosaic, that we develop ... techniques to bring people together across lines of difference,” says Rev. Robert Chase, founding director of Intersections International, a Manhattan-based organization that works globally in the field of cross-cultural dialogue.
“We need to first acknowledge that these differences exist, and then see if we can hear one another’s personal stories and create a safe space so that we can share in conversations about personal experiences we might have,” Rev. Chase continues.
“We can find ways to honor those personal experiences and then seek common elements of our life together, so that we can move together in ways that promote harmony.”