Poll on Trayvon Martin case shows racial divide

USA TODAY, April 5, 2012

By Yamiche Alcindor

Blacks and whites across the country view the Trayvon Martin case and its potential racial implications in largely different ways, according to a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.

In one of the starkest differences, 73% of blacks said they think George Zimmerman would have been arrested if Trayvon was white, while only 33% of whites agreed. The majority of whites polled — 52% — said race made no difference in the way the case was handled.

Trayvon, 17, was shot and killed on Feb. 26 in Sanford, Fla., as he was returning to a gated community after buying candy at a convenience store. Trayvon’s family says the young man was followed and then killed in cold blood because the gunman, Zimmerman, deemed him “suspicious” because the teen was black and wearing a hoodie.

“There are really profound differences in the worldviews of blacks and whites,” said Vincent Hutchings, a political science professor at the University of Michigan.

It’s no surprise that blacks in America, a group that has been historically and arguably continuously discriminated against, will look at Trayvon’s killing as part of a long narrative of injustice, Hutchings said.

He also argues that whites, a group that often enjoys racial privileges, don’t want to think of the world as a place where unarmed teenagers would get profiled and killed because it would call into question their unearned positions of power.

“It’s a reflection of the day to day living of blacks and whites,” Hutchings said.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain whose family says is Hispanic, has not been charged and said he shot the unarmed youth in self-defense after he was attacked.

Nationwide, race seems to be a major factor in whether people think Zimmerman should be charged.

Blacks were more likely to think Zimmerman is guilty of a crime; 51% say he was definitely guilty and 21% say he was probably guilty. Whites were more inclined to reserve judgment; 58% say his guilt was unclear based on information currently available.

The poll also showed that 72% of blacks think racial bias was a major factor in Trayvon’s shooting.

“The shooting and that George Zimmerman is free is overt racism,” said Kenneth McIver, 44, a black professor living in Mrytle Beach, South Carolina. “Trayvon was already labeled because of stereotypes … that young black males are hoodlums, that they’re up to no good, that they need to be watched.”

It’s hard for those who are not black to understand that race continues to affect everything from hiring to getting a home loan, McIver said.

White Americans were split on the question of racial bias, 30% said it was a major factor, 26% said it was a minor factor, and 27% said it was not a factor.

Mark Hadden, 60, who is white, thinks race was made a factor after the shooting by people with political motives.

“Some groups are waiting to be offended and waiting for the opportunity to be indignant,” said Hadden, a teacher who lives in Las Cruces, N.M. “There are people clinging to prejudices, but I don’t think it’s as predominant and near as deep in society as people pretend.”

He added that people should not rush to judgment on the case and wait for officials to decide whether Zimmerman should be charged.

Blacks also keep abreast of the development in the case in far larger numbers than whites: 52% say they are following the case closely.

The poll was taken Monday to Wednesday of 3,006 adults and has a margin of error of 2 percentage points.