By George E. Curry
African Americans are more than twice as likely as non-Blacks to believe that if 17-year-old Trayvon Martin had been White, his killer would have been arrested rather than set free, according to a new USAToday/Gallup Poll.
Martin was killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain, as he was walking back to a townhouse in Sanford, Fla. on Feb. 26 with a bag of Skittles and a can of Arizona tea. Zimmerman, described by police as White and pictured by relatives as Latino, was taken into custody for questioning and then released.
The case has attracted international attention as Martin’s parents called for the arrest of Zimmerman, 28. Marches and demonstrations have taken place across the country, many of them led by college students, deploying racial profiling and what they consider police mismanagement of the investigation.
The Gallup poll, conducted April 2-4, asked: Would Zimmerman have been arrested if the person he shot was White, or do you think Martin’s race did not make a difference?
Seventy-three percent of African Americans said Zimmerman would have been arrested if his victim had been White, compared with 35 percent of non-Blacks. Only 20 percent of Blacks believe Martin’s race did not make a difference, compared with 49 percent of non-Blacks. Just 8 percent of African-Americans had no opinion on whether race was a factor, compared with 16 percent of non-Blacks.
For the second straight week, Trayvon Martin’s killing was the nation’s top-ranked news story, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted March 29-April 1. In that study, 58 percent of Blacks cited the teenager’s killing as their top news story, compared with 24 percent of Whites. Forty-three percent of Whites believe the story has received too much coverage, with only 16 percent of Blacks sharing that view. “Nearly four-in-ten Democrats (38 percent), including 31 percent of white Democrats, say the killing of Trayvon Martin is their top story; just 19 percent of Republicans are following this story most closely,” the Pew study reported. “More than half of Republicans (56 percent) say the story has been overcovered, compared with 25 percent of Democrats, including 33 percent of white Democrats.”
In the Gallup study, 72 percent of African Americans said they believe racial bias was a factor in events leading up to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, more than twice the 31 percent rate of non-Blacks. When asked if Zimmerman were guilty of a crime, 51 percent of Blacks said he was “definitely guilty,” compared with 11 percent of non-Blacks. An equal amount of Blacks and non-Blacks –21 percent – said Zimmerman was probably guilty of a crime.
“U.S. public opinion about the Trayvon Martin case in Florida reflects the same type of racial divide found in 1995 surveys asking about the murder trial of O.J. Simpson in Los Angeles.
In one Gallup poll conducted Oct. 5-7, 1995, for example, 78 percent of Blacks said the jury that found Simpson not guilty of murder made the right decision, while only 42 percent of Whites agreed,” the Gallup poll noted.
It continued, “The situation in the Trayvon Martin case is different from the Simpson situation, however, because the victim, rather than the alleged perpetrator, is Black. Still, both situations, even though 17 years apart, apparently tap into the same deeply felt views of the average American that the criminal justice system in America is biased against Blacks.”