The dispiriting saga from Ferguson, Mo., provides another tragic window on decades of indifference to economic disparities — and on those fatal split seconds when police see black men as violent criminals rather than citizens. Ferguson raises anew the question of how many more unarmed black men must die before the nation declares this an all-American problem.
As unjustified as the Aug. 9 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown was, and as much as it has dominated the news, white America has barely shrugged its shoulders. Evidence of that indifference came Monday when the Pew Research Center released a national survey of attitudes about Ferguson and its meaning.
Asked whether the shooting in Ferguson “raises important issues about race,” 80 percent of black respondents said it did. But only 37 percent of white respondents agreed. And while two-thirds of black people said the police response in the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting went too far, only a third of white people thought so. Only a quarter of white respondents said they had followed the story closely, compared to half of black respondents.
This is similar to Pew’s survey about the shooting of unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by neighborhood vigilante George Zimmerman in a Florida gated community in February 2012. Although 78 percent of black Americans said the Martin shooting raised important issues about race, only 28 percent of white Americans thought so.
Thus the American conscience remains at bottom unperturbed, whether the name is Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, or Eric Garner, the unarmed New York City man choked to death last month by police after allegedly peddling untaxed cigarettes. It matters not that unarmed Amadou Diallo died of 19 New York City police bullets in 1999 or that unarmed Sean Bell died in a hail of 50 police bullets in Queens in 2006.
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