Seven of 10 whites polled reportedly said they can imagine a situation in which they would approve of a police officer striking an adult male citizen, according to the 2014 General Social Survey, a long-running measurement of trends in American opinions.
Of course, when Blacks and Hispanics are asked the same question their results are drastically different, mostly because those demographics are too often on the wrong side of a policeman’s billy club, choke hold or firearm.
The breakdown of people who approve of police striking people:
Whites: 70 percent
Blacks: 42 percent
Hispanics: 38 percent
These results were released on the heels of high-profile killings of unarmed Black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City. However, the survey shows the gap between whites, Blacks and Hispanics long predates those deaths.
The poll results don’t surprise experts on American attitudes toward police, who say experiences and history with law enforcement shape opinions about the use of violence by officers.
“Whites are significantly more likely to give police officers the benefit of the doubt, either because they have never had an altercation with a police officer or because they tend to see the police as allies in the fight against crime,” said Ronald Weitzer, a George Washington University sociology professor who has studied race and policing in the U.S. and internationally.