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The deep racial tensions seen in many areas of American life underlie how blacks and whites view police in their communities, as well as their reactions to the deadly encounters in recent years between blacks and law enforcement officers, according to a new survey by Pew Research Center.
Only about a third of blacks but roughly three-quarters of whites say police in their communities do an excellent or good job in using the appropriate force on suspects, treating all racial and ethnic minorities equally and holding officers accountable when misconduct occurs. Roughly half of all blacks say local police do an excellent or good job combating crime – a view held by about eight-in-ten whites.
Blacks and whites also differ over the root causes of the fatal incidents between police and blacks in recent years. Even before the recent lethal encounters between police and black men in Tulsa and Charlotte, the survey found that blacks are 25 percentage points more likely than whites to say the deaths of blacks during encounters with police in recent years are signs of a broader societal problem and not merely isolated incidents.
At the same time, whites and blacks both see the complexity of the situation. Majorities of each race say that both anti-police bias and a genuine desire to hold officers accountable for their actions play a part in fueling the protests that have often followed these fatal incidents, though whites are more skeptical than blacks about the demonstrators’ motives. There is less agreement on which is the more important motivator: For whites, it is anti-police bias (85% vs. 63% who see a sincere desire to promote accountability); for blacks it’s reversed (79% of blacks cite accountability, 56% opposition to the police).
The survey, conducted Aug. 16-Sept. 12 online and by mail among 4,538 U.S. adults, also found that about eight-in-ten blacks and a larger share of whites favor the use of body cameras by police to record encounters with citizens. Majorities of both races also believe that the use of so-called body cams would prompt officers to act more appropriately when dealing with the public.