The story of Trayvon Martin has produced the biggest racial divide in the United States since the O.J. Simpson trial and acquittal, according to a new Gallup poll. The poll finds that America is sharply divided along racial lines with their opinions on the case. In late February, Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a neighbourhood watch captain who has not been charged with a crime.
Take a look at these numbers: first, 72 per cent of blacks think George Zimmerman is either “definitely” or “probably” guilty of a crime. That compares with only 32 per cent of every other race surveyed. Most non-blacks (61 per cent) think there is not enough information available or have no opinion.
In the next question, 72 per cent of blacks again think that racial bias was a “major factor” in the events leading up to the shooting. That compares to only 31 per cent on non-blacks. And in a similar but more specific question, 73 per cent of blacks said Zimmerman would have been arrested if the person he shot was white. Only 35 per cent of non-blacks think so.
“This is similar to the type of racial divide we found with O.J. Simpson in 1995,” Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief, said in a phone interview Friday. “Other polling since then have shown that black and white Americans have sharply different views on the American justice system.”
In the case of O.J. Simpson, a Gallup poll following the trial found that 78 per cent of blacks thought the jury made the right decision in finding him not guilty. Only 42 per cent of whites agreed with that. Newport stressed that there is a bit of difference between the cases: Trayvon Martin is the victim here, while O.J. Simpson was the perpetrator.
Newport said that 2008 polling showed that 66 per cent of blacks believed that the justice system is discriminatory, while only one-third of whites polled agreed.
Opinions on the Trayvon Martin case are somewhat affected by the fact that more blacks are closely paying attention to the fallout of the shooting. That allowed blacks to be much more certain of their determination that Zimmerman is “probably” or “definitely” guilty.
The case has brought massive amounts of media attention, including an inordinate amount of screwups, unfounded allegations and unfair assumptions. But Newport wouldn’t speculate on how the intense media coverage has affected people’s opinions.
“I don’t have data that speak exactly to the issue of the impact of various media,” Newport said. “What we do know back in 1995, which was a different era — as you know, there was not much internet at all — we still had these same sharp racial divides and views of the criminal justice system.”
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