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Poll: Majority of black men in the US report unfair treatment by police

Overall satisfaction with how black people are treated in the United States has declined, says recent polling

Half of all black people in the United States, including roughly 60 percent of black men, say they have been treated poorly by law enforcement due to their race, according to an Associated Press-NORC survey released on Wednesday.

The same poll found that just 3 percent of white respondents felt police had treated them unjustly because of their race. Overall, attitudes toward law enforcement differed starkly; 70 percent of black respondents said police who injure or kill people get off easy, compared to 32 percent of white respondents.

The poll comes nearly one year after the killing of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American who died at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 9, 2014. Brown was unarmed at the time, and his death triggered a wave of protests in Ferguson that spread throughout the country.

As Brown’s death captured national attention — along with a series of other high-profile incidents in which unarmed black people died at the hands of police officers, or in police custody — attitudes about race in the United States have shifted significantly.

Forty-nine percent of Americans now report they are “satisfied with the way blacks are treated in U.S. society,” according to a Gallup survey released Tuesday. That represents a sharp drop from just two years ago, when 62 percent of respondents said they were satisfied.

Earlier iterations of the same poll, dating back to 2001, have never shown such a steep decline. Until 2015, satisfaction with how black people are treated in the U.S. had never declined below 59 percent.

The unprecedented 13 percent drop in satisfaction appears to be related to the rise of Black Lives Matter and similar activist groups, which have drawn increasing attention to what they see as a racially stratified law enforcement system and economy.

Persistent racial inequality has become a central question in the 2016 presidential election, with candidates on the Democratic side of the aisle jockeying over who is most equipped to reduce disparities in policing and incarceration. Some Republican candidates, notably Rand Paul, have also embraced police reform as part of an outreach strategy to black voters.

Yet other recent polling has found that public opinion remains sharply divided along racial lines when it comes to policing and incarceration. A May survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 61 percent of white respondents believe people of color are treated fairly by the criminal justice system, compared to just 19 percent of black respondents. 

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