Two recent decisions by grand juries not to indict white police officers in the killings of unarmed black men have dented Americans' confidence in the legal system, a new NBC News/Marist poll finds. But there's a big racial split on the question.
Seventy percent of blacks say the decisions have decreased their confidence in the system, while just 9% say the decisions have increased their confidence. For whites, the split is smaller: 35% who say their confidence has decreased, and 21% who say it's increased.
Among all Americans, 43% say their confidence has taken a hit, 17% say it's increased, and 32% say the decisions made no difference.
Last month, a grand jury in St. Louis County, Missouri decided not to indict Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed local teen. The decision set off several nights of angry protests in the region.
Wednesday, a Staten Island grand jury also decided not to indict New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo for an encounter with another unarmed black man, Eric Garner, who died after Pantaleo used a choke-hold on him—a moved banned by NYPD guidelines.
The twin decisions, along with other cases of police violence against blacks, have sparked mass nationwide protests and a burgeoning movement for police and criminal justice reform.
The poll showed other evidence of a sharp racial split. Eighty-two percent of blacks agree that law enforcement applies different standards to whites and blacks. Eighty percent strongly agree. Only 39% of whites agree with that, while 51% disagree.
Since blacks are overwhelmingly Democratic, it's not surprising that the split on the question is partisan, too. Sixty-four percent of Democrats agree that law enforcement uses different standards for whites and blacks, while 64% of Republicans disagree. Among all Americans, 47% agree and 44% disagree.
It's a similar story on the issue of excessive force. Seventy-nine percent of whites say they have “a great deal” or a “fair amount” of confidence that police won’t use excessive force. But 52% of blacks have “just some” or “very little” confidence that they won't.
One area of agreement, that could underscore hopes for reform: Seventy-four percent of whites and 81% of blacks say police should be required to wear body cameras to monitor their policing. On Monday, President Obama announced he'd ask for $75 million to fund body cameras for law enforcement nationwide.
Just 30% of all Americans approve of the president's handling of the grand jury decisions, while 46% disapprove. Among blacks, the numbers aren't too different: 46% disapprove while 35% approve.
In his response to the decisions, the president has acknowledged problems in the relationship between police and minority communities, and pledged action. But his tone has mostly been calm and understated—perhaps out of an awareness that many white Americans are supportive of police.
The poll was conducted Dec. 4-5—the two days that followed news of the Garner decision. It surveyed 1,018 adults, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.