Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Chance for Dialogue? Ferguson May Divide Us Less Than We Imagine

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Chance for Dialogue? Ferguson May Divide Us Less Than We Imagine

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON

African-Americans are not alone in being horrified by the killing of Michael Brown. They are not alone in their concern over the police's behavior. And there's evidence that a large number of white Americans have still not fully formed their views on this tragedy. This means that how we discuss and debate the events in Ferguson, Missouri, really matters.

What you have probably heard up to now is how racially polarized the country is in its reaction to the shooting of Mr. Brown by a police officer - at least six times, including twice to the head. But polarization is the wrong concept here. The fact is that white Americans are clearly divided in their reactions, a sign that a broad national dialogue leading to change is possible - if, for once, we step outside the usual boundaries of our discord.

African-Americans are not divided. In a Pew Research Center survey conducted from Aug. 14 to Aug. 17, 80 percent of blacks said the case "raises important issues about race that need to be discussed." In addition, 65 percent said that the police response had gone too far.

Among whites, 37 percent said the case raises important issues about race, while 47 percent said "the issue of race is getting more attention in this case than it deserves." Pew asked a similar question in July 2013 after the killing of Trayvon Martin and found only 28 percent of whites said the case raised important racial issues while 60 percent said race was getting too much attention.This is a potentially significant shift. It's possible the direct involvement of the police in Mr. Brown's death has an impact here, or that discussion of the Martin shooting altered white opinion.

Also noteworthy is that many whites have yet to form a view of the police response in Ferguson: 32 percent said the response has been "about right," 33 percent said it has "gone too far" - and an astonishing 35 percent declined to express an opinion. Many white Americans are still watching, and listening.

As for confidence in the investigations of the killing, African- Americans are far more suspicious than whites, but white views are complicated. Carroll Doherty, Pew's director of political research, provided a detailed breakdown of opinion. …

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