Poll: Ferguson police response 'has gone too far,' more Americans say

Some 40 percent of respondents to a Pew Research Center survey said the police response 'has gone too far,' while just 28 percent favored the view that the response has been 'about right.'

Charlie Riedel/AP
A man is detained after a standoff with police on Monday, Aug. 18, during a protest for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American teenager who was killed by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. Brown's shooting has sparked more than a week of protests, riots, and looting in the St. Louis suburb.

The police response to street protests in Ferguson, Mo., has been too extreme, a plurality of Americans says in a newly released poll.

Some 40 percent of all respondents said the police response “has gone too far,” according to the new Pew Research Center survey. Just 28 percent favored the view that the response has been “about right,” while the rest said they didn’t know enough to judge.

Blacks were much more likely than whites to say the militarized nature of the response to street unrest has gone too far. But even among whites alone, the “gone too far” view was supported by a plurality of 33 percent, versus 32 percent who said “about right.”

The survey was conducted Aug. 14-17, as the events in Ferguson have focused national attention on questions of race and justice, as well as on the so-called militarization of police.

New polling released this week, from Rasmussen Reports as well Pew, points to a public sharply divided along racial lines. Blacks are much more skeptical than whites about the justice system’s fairness, the polls find.

And they both find considerable concern about the police tactics on display in Ferguson in recent days.

“Americans across the board give mixed reviews to the police response to the mob violence in Ferguson and also question the militarization of the local police on display in the days since the shooting,” Rasmussen Reports said in releasing its data Monday.

Some 28 percent in the Rasmussen poll rated the police response as poor, versus 27 percent who rated it as good or excellent. The survey by the Republican polling firm was done Aug. 15 and 16.

A plurality of 46 percent in the poll opposes the use of military-grade weapons and equipment by their local police, versus 31 percent who favor the use of such equipment.  

Just over half of all voters nationwide like the idea of police officers wearing video cameras, the Rasmussen polling found. Such a practice, if used by the police force in Ferguson, might have provided valuable evidence in the shooting.

A wide gap among the races in views of the criminal justice system isn’t new, but the events in Ferguson are calling new attention to the rift.

A majority of whites in the Pew Research Center poll expresses confidence in the investigations of Mr. Brown’s death, while only about 1 in 6 African Americans feels that way.

President Obama announced Monday that US Attorney General Eric Holder will visit Ferguson this week alongside a Justice Department team looking into the incident.

Meanwhile, African Americans are much more likely than whites in the Pew poll to say Brown’s death “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed.”

The divide is political as well as racial. Democrats generally say the news in Ferguson has raised important issues about race, while only 22 percent of Republicans in the Pew poll feel that way.

Even before the Ferguson unrest, in a January Rasmussen poll, only 34 percent of Americans overall said race relations in the US are good or excellent. 

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