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Trayvon Martin case: Polls reveal depth of racial divide (+video)

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Yet some observers say such a stark disparity among the viewpoints of blacks and whites demands “some soul-searching,” as President Obama said in his candid remarks on the case last week.

Efforts by politicians to organize conversations on race have not been particularly productive, Mr. Obama said. “They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.”

Even here there is a wide divide, however. Nearly 80 percent of blacks polled said the Trayvon Martin case raises important issues about race that need to be discussed, Pew reported. But just less than one-third of whites agreed.

But while whites are less likely to want to discuss matters of race – and many feel a sense of unease doing so – black Americans, as Obama said, “[are] looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that – that doesn’t go away.”

“We know that there is a long history, that the historical relationship between black people and law enforcement at the federal, state, and local level is contentious,” says Lester K. Spence, associate professor of political science and Africana studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “That’s why the gap exists.”

Such experiences inform reactions to the case, and help explain why 86 percent of African-Americans polled say blacks and other minorities do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system, according to The Washington Post/ABC News poll. Far fewer whites – 41 percent – say this is the case.

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