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US poll shows racial divisions amid Ferguson unrest

Black and white Americans have sharply divided opinions over the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer and the consequent protests, a poll showed on Friday (Aug 22).

WASHINGTON: Black and white Americans have sharply divided opinions over the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer and the consequent protests, a poll showed on Friday (Aug 22).

Brown's killing on August 9 in the town of Ferguson, Missouri, sparked nearly two weeks of protests that only now appear to be dissipating, although more demonstrations are expected to take place over the weekend. The 18-year-old's death at the hands of white police officer Darren Wilson has stirred racial tensions in majority-black Ferguson and sparked debate about relations between African Americans and law-enforcement.

A majority of blacks, or 57 per cent, think that Brown's shooting was "not justified," the New York Times/CBS News poll found, a view shared by only 18 per cent of white respondents. And when it comes to the subsequent protests, which at times flared into violence and looting, 67 per cent of whites said the demonstrators' actions had "gone too far," while 43 per cent of blacks thought the same.

Police faced criticism for their initial response to the demonstrations, with some in Ferguson saying the mostly white local force was overly aggressive and unnecessarily confrontational. There, too, black and white respondents had different views. Half of African-Americans said the police response had mostly "gone too far," but only 27 per cent of white respondents agreed.

And about six in 10 blacks polled said they had little to no confidence the investigation by local authorities into Brown's shooting would be handled fairly, while about the same share of whites said they were confident the probe would be fair.

There was more consensus, however, over what some have called the "militarisation" of the police. Asked if they believed local police forces should have military weapons and vehicles such as assault rifles and tanks, 80 per cent of blacks said such equipment should only be for the military - and 65 per cent of whites agreed.

The nationwide survey of 1,025 people was conducted by telephone on August 19-20.

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