Politics & Government

McClatchy-Marist Poll: Don’t charge Ferguson police officer

Protesters for Michael Brown march in solidarity with LGBT activists eastward down Manchester Avenue in the Grove neighborhood, Nov. 26, 2014, as peaceful but fervent demonstrations erupted all over the St. Louis area.
Protesters for Michael Brown march in solidarity with LGBT activists eastward down Manchester Avenue in the Grove neighborhood, Nov. 26, 2014, as peaceful but fervent demonstrations erupted all over the St. Louis area. St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS

Despite massive protests, Americans say by 2-1 that the federal government shouldn’t charge the white police officer who shot an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.

Voters say by 61-31 percent that the Justice Department, which is investigating the shooting, shouldn’t bring civil rights charges against Darren Wilson.

Whites overwhelmingly think Wilson shouldn’t face charges, by 68-23 percent. But Latinos lean toward charges by 50-44 percent, and African-Americans think by 75-14 percent that he should be charged.

Also among the findings of the poll, conducted in the wake of back-to-back decisions in Missouri and New York not to charge white police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men:

– Voters think by 55-40 percent that the two cases are isolated incidents rather than reflections of the entire criminal justice system. Sixty-one percent of whites think that; just 20 percent of blacks do.

– A solid majority, 73 percent, have a great deal or fair amount of confidence that police treat blacks and whites equally. That confidence ranges from 77 percent of whites to 50 percent of blacks.

– By 43-34 percent, voters overall think that President Barack Obama’s race has helped, rather than hurt, race relations. African-Americans dissent, and think it has hurt.

“The overarching reaction has been very different along racial lines,” said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducted the survey. “They have a fundamentally different view of what’s going on.”

In November, a St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Wilson in the August shooting death of Michael Brown. Days later, a Staten Island grand jury declined to charge white police officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was involved in the July death of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner.

The two deaths galvanized protests in much of the country. Although many have been peaceful, the Brown shooting led to days of rioting, vandalism and looting in Ferguson before and after the grand jury decision.

Voters tend to think the protests after Ferguson hurt rather then helped, saying by 64-21 percent that they’d brought negative attention to the issues instead of positive attention. Again, that was a racially polarized view, with whites saying by 68-18 percent that the Ferguson protests had a negative impact, Latinos saying the same thing by 59-19 percent and African-Americans saying by 43-35 percent that the protests had a positive impact.

“What the protests are about haven’t gotten to Americans,” Miringoff said. “They’re not connected to what they’re seeing.”

Some have blamed Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, for inciting riots after he used tough language, including swear words, when addressing demonstrators. He’s since apologized.

By 63-31 percent, voters don’t think Head should be charged with inciting the riots. It’s a rare point of agreement between whites and blacks, by percentages of 64-30 and 78-16, respectively.

Looking at police generally, 79 percent of all voters said they had confidence in local police to protect them from violent crime. That includes 61 percent of African-Americans.

In the poll, voters disapproved by 47-44 percent of the way Obama is handling race relations.

The first African-American president dives into the national debate over race reluctantly, usually only after a high-profile incident, and he hasn’t made it a central focus of his presidency. This year, Obama has spoken numerous times about Brown’s case and has unveiled a spending request, including $75 million to buy 50,000 body-worn cameras for local law enforcement.

The poll found voters similarly divided over whether the president’s race had helped or set back race relations.

Whites and Latinos think it’s helped, by percentages of 44-35 and 46-25, respectively. But African-Americans think it’s hurt race relations rather than helped, by 42-33 percent.

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