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Public perceptions of Brown killing and protests reveal stark division by race

August 19, 2014 at 6:20 PM EDT
To discuss the racial divide in reactions to the Ferguson protests, Judy Woodruff looks at data with Carroll Doherty of Pew Research Center. Ronald Hampton, former executive director of the National Black Police Association, and Gil Alba, former detective of the New York City Police Department, discuss the prospects for reconciling the Ferguson community after such upheaval.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It turns out that there is a sharp racial divide in the United States when it comes to reactions to the shooting of Michael Brown and the ongoing protests in Ferguson.

[nh_link align=”right”]That’s one of the findings revealed in a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

Here to explain is Carroll Doherty. He’s the director of political research there. And he joins us.

We thank you for being here today.

CARROLL DOHERTY, Pew Research Center: Thanks for inviting me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, your poll done nationally. It was August 14 through 17, so done last Thursday through Sunday, you were just telling me. And it shows a really — some stark findings about how whites and blacks view the question of whether race is an issue here.

CARROLL DOHERTY: That’s the first question, whether race is an issue or whether it’s getting too much attention.

Eighty percent of African-Americans say this case raises important issues about race. Among whites, more divided views, but 47 percent say issue of race has gotten too much attention. So, you see a stark division right off the bat.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were telling me that, over the course of the days you were in the field with questions, some of these answers were shifting.

CARROLL DOHERTY: Well, certainly, the circumstances were shifting, and especially when it came to the questions about the police response, because that changed night by night.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right, but the sharpest is just…

CARROLL DOHERTY: Yes, absolutely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And 80 percent of blacks saying it raised important race — questions about race.

CARROLL DOHERTY: Twice as many blacks…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Twice as many.



The next — one of the next questions you asked was about the police response.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Whether the police have gone too far in Ferguson or whether their reaction has been about right. What did you find out?

CARROLL DOHERTY: And again 2-1, 65 percent of blacks and 33 percent of whites say the police response has gone too far — a huge disparity there.


And, nationally, it’s 40 to 28.


JUDY WOODRUFF: But the really stark change there is…


JUDY WOODRUFF: The difference there is between blacks and whites.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, Carroll Doherty, you asked about how much confidence did people have in the investigation of the shooting.


JUDY WOODRUFF: The question was, do you have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence or not too much or none at all?


JUDY WOODRUFF: And here, among blacks, 76 percent said no — not too much or done at all.

CARROLL DOHERTY: And when you look — and when you look at the not-at-alls, 45 percent of African-Americans say they have no confidence at all in the investigations going forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do these numbers — you have been looking at racial…


JUDY WOODRUFF: … attitudes in this country for a long time. What do you think these numbers say about where our country is when it comes to understanding between the races, how we view race relations? It’s 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

CARROLL DOHERTY: Well, it’s history and it’s personal experience.

I mean, this is yet another incident like this, Trayvon Martin, Rodney King, another in a series of incidents where you see blacks and whites taking very different views of the circumstance, the police response, what it means to society, and then personal experience.

When we asked last year about discrimination in their community, 70 percent of blacks say they’re treated less fairly than whites by the police in their own community, a number that hasn’t changed a lot.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I was going to ask you about that, about these are numbers that you have seen change appreciably over time, or have they been consistent over the decades? How have you seen that?

CARROLL DOHERTY: Confidence in police has not changed among African-Americans or whites, for that matter, much over the last, say, 20 years.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, this is a question you have continued to ask.


And you see this in variety of ways. You see discrimination, and blacks see discrimination in many areas of life. But the ones that are — seem to be most pronounced are in the area of criminal justice and the way police operate in their communities.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s really stunning — some stunning numbers here.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Carroll Doherty with the Pew Research Center, we thank you.


JUDY WOODRUFF: How to deal with that divide we just heard about is a challenge — I’m sorry — let me do it again — is one more challenge.

I meant to ad-lib it, and I didn’t.

More on that and the shifting tactics we have seen.

We turn to Gil Alba. He’s a 28-year veteran of the New York City Police Department, where he was a detective. He now runs a private security firm. And Ronald Hampton worked for 23 years as a community relations officer for the Metropolitan Police in Washington, D.C. He also served as executive director of the National Black Police Association for two decades. He today teaches criminal justice at the University of the District of Columbia.

And we welcome you both.

I want to start by talking to you about why the authorities in Ferguson are having so much difficulty getting the situation to calm down.

Ronald Hampton, what do you — how do you see this?

FMR. OFFICER RONALD HAMPTON, Metropolitan Police Department, District of Columbia: Well, I think the first mistakes were made in the beginning, when the chief wasn’t open and honest and transparent with the information about what had happened, who was involved, when the report would be released, talking about the circumstances of it.

There is a lot of information that he could have given up front that I think would have given people some information to work with, and then, as the information began to come out, more information, to handle that information given to them and not be…


RONALD HAMPTON: Yes, ma’am. No.


So, even if it’s partial information, you’re saying get it out there.

RONALD HAMPTON: Oh, absolutely. I think so, because they’re looking for transparency.

When we — for example, if a crime happens in our community, the first thing the people want — or the police want to do is talk to the people to get information from them to help solve the crime. And then as information becomes available, then they arm the community with it, because of safety and others things that happen.

It didn’t happen in this incident. And then I believe that that was one of the leading factors in terms of the kind of things that we’re dealing with now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gil Alba, how do you size up the difficulty the authorities are having? And what about what Mr. Hampton just said?

GIL ALBA, Alba Investigations: You know, they should have come out with something at the beginning.

And, really, I don’t really think that is the problem with the rioting, the anger. And that was long coming, I think, in this — probably in this neighborhood. And I think the police now and the community have to get together, which is not easy after the rioters.

Once you have rioters and looting, it kind of turns off America in a sense, and it takes so much away from Michael Brown, the — how they — what happened to him. And it’s really not about him anymore. It’s about the looters and the rioters and then the police.

And the police are showing a lot of restraints right now, because there’s Molotov cocktails being thrown. So, there — has to stop at some point. And it’s not an easy job. Even the National Guards couldn’t stop it at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Ronald Hampton, how do you bring a community together after you have had an incident like this?

RONALD HAMPTON: Well, you know, I don’t know if my friend in New York would — for me, it would — but some years ago, there was a gentleman who was police commissioner in Baltimore. His name was Thomas Frazier. And he had coined the term, because he was one of the people who were involved in early community policing.

And he talked about policing — developing what he called community capital. And it was community capital. And it’s a concept where, you know, police and community relationship is like a marriage. It’s up and down, up and down. But if you build up that capital with your community, because you’re going to be — there’s going to be downtime, you have already built up some capital and then you can live on that capital.

But you have got to work on that relationship. Obviously, the people in Ferguson didn’t have — the Ferguson Police Department didn’t have any community capital because of issues with policing in that city and surrounding area, as well as other socioeconomic issues that was going on in their town.

That’s what the looting is about. But you can’t get around all those issues, because the incident with Michael Brown was incident that touched off the whole thing. But these fumes have been in the room for an awful long time. And that’s the way it seems to work, whether it’s New York, whether it’s L.A., whether it’s Washington, D.C.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gil Alba, you agree there are things that could have been done differently in the community to lay the groundwork before this ever happened in the first place?


I’m surprised that this — I have been into many riots just like this, and — through the years. And I’m surprised that here in America at this time and again, it’s the same issues. And really there’s a problem there. And it is between the community and the police. And they should have been building up some rapport with the community for a long time in this area.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, in the absence of that — and we have — we have been talking about this on the NewsHour the last few days about the fact that the police force is not representative racially of the community, that the community has changed very rapidly racially.

What does one do? They talked about trying — they have added curfews and they have taken them away. The authorities are now asking people to protest during the day, rather than at night, but then you had another shooting today.

What are the authorities to do, or other leaders in the community, Mr. Alba?

GIL ALBA: Well, I was just — that was a separate incident in Saint Louis with the shooting.

But with that Saint Louis shooting, they came out and told you exactly what was going on and why the shooting. And you kind of felt a lot better knowing what was going, and with the witnesses even saying this.

Here, nothing comes out. Even — I don’t even know really what happened so far with the shooting and what happened, because there’s so many conflicting stories. So, that has to do a lot with the anger and the protests.

But, you know, the protests are — in the daytime, they’re much different than they are at nighttime. Daytime, you got the regular moving. The protesters at night, you have different set of people that are looting and going out and throwing Molotov cocktails and doing something else.

The police are trying to be — trying to restrain themselves up to a point. And, hopefully, they keep doing that. But there’s a lot of instigators coming from across the country and trying to instigate the police into taking some kind of action, so more problems could happen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right. And we have been reporting on that.

And, Ronald Hampton, what are the main things that should happen right now, should authorities be focused on doing right now?

RONALD HAMPTON: Well, I think it’s time to start pulling together community members, those who have key roles, whether in the Missouri House, local delegation, local council people, community leaders, to start talking about identifying what the issues are, and then developing strategies on terms of how we’re going to do it.

We need short-term, long-term goals, because there are some things we can take care of now, some things we can take care of later. We need to talk about the government and the elected officials representing the community they serve. You can’t change the police department overnight.

But, clearly, I suggest that if you were to talk to the police officers, the three black police officers on the police department, they will probably tell you about issues that they are experiencing in the police department that they only make up three out of 53.

So — but you have to come together to talk about those issues, develop some sort of strategic approach to doing it, and then take it one by one, and then factor out the peripheral kind of individuals in place.

You’re going to need some assistance and resources, but they are going to have to solve that themselves.


Gil Alba, what would you add to that? What are the main things that needs to be done right now?

GIL ALBA: Well, definitely the police and the community.

It’s really outsiders coming in, Sharpton and those, I don’t know how much they would help. It’s really the people in the community, just like the officer was saying. And they have to get together with the police. And the police have to come out and show them that they’re part of the community and that’s — and have a representative like the community and the police.

I don’t really think they have anybody to talk to the community with the police. So, really, you have to start making grounds right now and start building rapport with them.

RONALD HAMPTON: They could start with — they could start with Captain Johnson in a good role.

GIL ALBA: He’s doing a great job.

JUDY WOODRUFF: With the state patrol.

RONALD HAMPTON: He was in an excellent role. He has some resources. He has some capital. He is from that community.

They could start with him, because I think he has a sense of what some of issues are as well, as what it is that we need to be doing.

GIL ALBA: Yes, I agree with that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Two former police officers, thank you.

Two former police officers talking with us, Gil Alba, Ronald Hampton. It’s a tough situation.


JUDY WOODRUFF: And we thank you both.


GIL ALBA: OK. Thank you for having us.