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Negative view on US race relations grows, poll finds

A man holds placards while protesters gather to support Baltimore's protests against police brutality following the April 19 death of Freddie Gray in police custody, during a rally in New York, April 28, 2015. ― Reuters picNEW YORK, May 5 ― Public perceptions of race relations in America have grown substantially more negative in the aftermath of the death of a young black man who was injured while in police custody in Baltimore and the subsequent unrest, far eclipsing the sentiment recorded in the wake of turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer.

Americans are also increasingly likely to say that the police are more apt to use deadly force against a black person, the latest New York Times/CBS News poll finds.

The poll findings highlight the challenges for local leaders and police officials in trying to maintain order while sustaining faith in the criminal justice system in a racially polarized nation.

Sixty-one per cent now say race relations in this country are generally bad. That figure is up sharply from 44 per cent after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown and the unrest that followed in Ferguson in August, and 43 per cent in December. In a CBS News poll just two months ago, 38 per cent said race relations were generally bad. Current views are by far the worst of Barack Obama’s presidency.

The sentiment is echoed by broad majorities of blacks and whites alike, a stark change from earlier this year, when 58 per cent of blacks thought race relations were bad, but just 35 per cent of whites agreed. In August, 48 per cent of blacks and 41 per cent of whites said they felt that way.

Looking ahead, 44 per cent of Americans think race relations are worsening, up from 36 per cent in December. Forty-one per cent of blacks and 46 per cent of whites think so. Pessimism among whites has increased 10 points since December.

The poll finds that profound racial divisions in views of how the police use deadly force remain. Blacks are more than twice as likely to say police in most communities are more apt to use deadly force against a black person ― 79 per cent of blacks say so compared with 37 per cent of whites. A slim majority of whites say race is not a factor in a police officer’s decision to use deadly force.

Overall, 44 per cent of Americans say deadly force is more likely to be used against a black person, up from 37 per cent in August and 40 per cent in December.

Blacks also remain far more likely than whites to say they feel mostly anxious about the police in their community. Forty-two per cent say so, while 51 per cent feel mostly safe. Among whites, 8 in 10 feel mostly safe.

One proposal to address the matter ― having on-duty police officers wear body cameras - receives overwhelming support. More than 9 in 10 whites and blacks alike favour it.

Asked about the situation in Baltimore, most Americans expressed at least some confidence that the investigation by local authorities would be conducted fairly. But while nearly two-thirds of whites think so, fewer than half of blacks agree. Still, more blacks are confident now than were in August regarding the investigation in Ferguson.

On Friday, six members of the police force involved in the arrest of the man who died, Freddie Gray, were charged with serious offenses, including manslaughter. The poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday; results from before charges were announced are similar to those from after.

The nationwide poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday on landlines and cellphones with 1,027 adults, including 793 whites and 128 blacks. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for all adults, 4 percentage points for whites and 9 percentage points for blacks. ― New York Times