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Poll Shows Deep Racial Divide in Confidence in Law Enforcement

NBC News/Marist survey shows that African Americans and whites have differing views of whether police will refrain from using excessive force.
Protesters stand in Foley Square in New York City on Dec. 4, during demonstration against the chokehold death of an unarmed black father-of-six by a white police officer. TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP - Getty Images

Americans are deeply split along racial lines in their level of confidence that police officers will treat white and black people equally and refrain from using excessive force, a new NBC News/Marist poll shows.

In the wake of the deaths of unarmed black men in police confrontations in New York and Ferguson, Missouri, 47 percent of Americans say that law enforcement applies different standards to blacks and whites, while 44 percent disagree.

But 82 percent of African Americans say that police have different standards based on race, while half of whites say the opposite.

And while 72 percent of the public and 79 percent of whites say that they have "a great deal" or "a fair amount" of confidence that police in their community will not use excessive force on suspects, just 43 percent of black Americans say the same.

A broad majority of Americans - 93 percent - say they have heard about the recent grand jury decisions in Staten Island and Ferguson, in which police were not indicted for their role in the deaths of unarmed black men. Forty-three percent said that the decisions decreased their confidence in the legal system, versus just 17 percent who said the opposite. Among African Americans, seven in ten said the verdicts decreased their faith in the legal system; among whites, one in five said their confidence has increased.

Confidence in law enforcement is also divided on partisan lines. Just 35 percent of Democrats say they have "a great deal" of confidence in police in their community to do a good job enforcing the law, compared to 73 percent of Republicans. And 64 percent of Democrats say that police apply different standards based on race, while the same percentage of Republicans disagree.

Just a third of the public - 30 percent - said they approve of President Barack Obama's handling of the grand jury decisions, versus 46 percent who disapprove. More white, black and Latino respondents disapprove of how he has dealt with the situation than those who approve. (Whites disapprove by 49 percent to 27 percent, black disapprove 46 to 35 percent, and Latinos disapprove 38 to 36 percent.)

Three-quarters -- 76 percent -- of Americans also say that police officers should be required to wear video recorders to monitor their policing, versus just 17 percent who disagree.

The survey of 1,018 adults was conducted December 4-5. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent.