AP NEWS
Related topics

Americans Appalled by Rioting but Split on Racial Component With AM-LA Riot, Bjt

May 3, 1992

NEW YORK (AP) _ Dismay over the Rodney King verdict and horror over the Los Angeles rioting are sentiments that unite most Americans, but public opinion is divided over the state of racial justice, polls and interviews show.

A Time-CNN poll released Sunday found 43 percent of whites believe the nation’s criminal justice system favors whites over blacks, but 84 percent of blacks feel that way. About half the blacks polled, but less than one-fourth of the whites said that in an everyday encounter with police they risked being treated unfairly.

The acquittal of four white policemen charged with the videotaped beating of a black motorist shook a nation that traditionally has abiding faith in its courts’ fairness.

″It was a complete farce, because only an ignorant person could let those police off the hook for what they did, for almost murdering a man in the street,″ said Steve Karpin, 39, a bus driver for the State University of New York at Albany. Karpin, who is white, was one of dozens of people interviewed across the nation over the weekend by Associated Press reporters.

Many seemed to share the perception of unfairness in the system that has driven people to protest in the streets, sometimes violently, since Wednesday’s verdict.

″I think it was appalling, the verdict they came up with,″ said Sandy Ebbens, 45, a homemaker in Hamburg, Iowa.

″Although I never condone any kind of violence, I can see and feel their anger, I can understand why they’re so angry. It’s too bad they feel they have to express it like this, but when the justice system doesn’t hear you, how else can you get through?″

″I think black people don’t get a fair shake,″ said Portland, Ore., construction worker Bert Fox, 41. ″The tension was tight and it snapped.″

Polls show a gap in thinking between blacks and whites not over whether the verdict was wrong, but whether a deeper problem, racism, is involved.

In an ABC News-Washington Post poll Thursday, 89 percent of black Americans but just 43 percent of whites said the criminal justice system fails to treat minority groups equally with whites. Three in four blacks agreed that the verdict ″shows that blacks cannot get justice in this country,″ but only one in four whites felt that way.

Carl Norton, 35, a black security guard in Jackson, Miss., said the trouble won’t end until we ″learn to love each other and get the justice system straight.″

Brenda Couture, 22, a white bartender in Albany, said she couldn’t understand the verdict. ″I think it was wrong. The evidence was there, they had a videotape and I thought it was locked, sealed, guilty.″ But like others interviewed, she was suspicious of the rioters’ motivations, saying, ″I think some of them are using this as an excuse to loot.″

Mary Nunez, 37, a Phoenix secretary, said, ″It’s crazy. It’s nonsense. It’s people acting like animals. I don’t understand it. I wish someone would explain it to me.″

Cole Lewellen, 33, an engineer in Mesa, Ariz., said, ″This has set things way back as far as race relations.″ In the ABC-Post poll, 58 percent of whites and 80 percent of blacks felt that way.

A Newsweek poll taken Thursday and Friday found that 79 percent of whites, and 74 percent of blacks think the violence was unjustified.

″Everyone was upset with the verdict,″ said Cathy Haggen, 30, a Portland, Ore., bank teller. ″But now it’s a good excuse for gang members and other opportunists to loot and not be caught.″

The Time-CNN poll questioned 798 whites and 200 blacks Thursday, and the two groups’ margins of sampling error were 3.5 and 7 percentage points respectively. Newsweek’s margins were 6 points for whites, 7 for blacks; ABC’s a few points higher for blacks. In addition, a one- or two-weeknight poll may have practical difficulties in reaching a representative national sampling.