A new poll examining how Americans feel about the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, where police recently shot an unarmed black teen, finds that opinions about protests in the community and the police’s response are strongly divided along racial lines.
The data, out from Pew Research, shows that black Americans are overwhelmingly more likely to say that there’s a strong racial component to the police shooting of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old. Eighty percent of black Americans polled said that the situation in Ferguson should foment a national discussion about race relations, while 47 percent of white Americans reported that they feel the issue of race is overblown.
Feelings about the police response to protests in the community are similarly divided along racial lines. Just 35 percent of white respondents told Pew that they believed the police have gone too far in responding to the unrest in Ferguson, compared to 65 percent of black Americans who decried the police actions.
Age and political affiliation also influenced opinions in the Pew poll.
Fifty-five percent of Americans younger than 30 reported that the events in Ferguson highlight important racial issues. Other age demographics were divided about whether race plays a key role.
Democrats were more likely than Republicans to view race as an important part of the Ferguson story, as 68 percent said that Brown’s death should lead to renewed discussions about race in America. A majority of Democrats (56 percent) also said that the police response was too heavy-handed. GOP voters expressed near opposite views, with 61 percent saying that the racial component of Brown’s death is overblown and 43 percent reporting that the police are responding to the Ferguson protests appropriately.
The usual-suspect lineup of race hucksters (Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, et al.) has latched on to the racial component of the Ferguson protests. But reflections on race and law enforcement in the U.S. resulting from the situation in Ferguson are a little more surprising.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul has made no secret of his efforts to broaden his Party’s appeal to black voters. But his decision to dive feet first, via a column published in TIME last week, into the Ferguson debacle was met with skepticism from some Americans on the left and criticism from GOP factions.
“Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention,” Paul wrote in his piece. “Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.”
Matt Wills, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, later criticized Paul’s remarks on race as “unhelpful.”
“This is a tragedy for all communities — not just African-American communities,” Wills told The Hill. “I think this all just too much too soon from these politicians. We’re still learning new details. I can’t fault the police for wanting to protect themselves and the community, and I also have a deep place in my heart for the civil liberties we have as Americans.”
The situation in Ferguson deteriorated over the weekend after a period of relative calm late last week, prompting Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to deploy state National Guard units to the community.
“The Guard’s immediate and limited responsibilities under the direction of Colonel Ron Replogle of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, are to provide protection, and ensure the safety of our Unified Command Center, which was the target last night of a coordinated attack,” Nixon said in a statement. “The Guard will concentrate its resources on carrying out this limited mission.”