WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans are deeply divided by race over the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, with 91 percent of African-Americans saying he was unjustly killed, while just 35 percent of whites thought so, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Thursday.
Fifty-nine percent of Hispanics believe that Martin was unjustly killed six weeks ago, according to the online poll of 1,922 Americans, conducted Monday through Thursday. (Link to poll: here)
In a sign of how riveted Americans have been by the case, 93 percent of those surveyed said they were aware of the shooting, which set off heated debates over race, gun control and crime.
“African Americans have a significantly different perspective on the whole incident than white Americans or Hispanic Americans,” said Ipsos pollster Chris Jackson. “This incident is one of the clearest splits we’ve seen between whites and blacks.”
The one area where all races agree is that they thought no one would ever really know what happened the February 26 night when 17-year-old Martin was killed in a quiet gated community in the central Florida town of Sanford.
George Zimmerman, a crime watch volunteer who is white and Hispanic, made a brief initial appearance in a Florida courtroom on Thursday. He has been charged with second-degree murder for Martin’s shooting and will return to court on May 29.
Police initially declined to arrest Zimmerman, who said he shot Martin in self-defense. Zimmerman’s freedom and Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law set off civil rights demonstrations across the country.
In addition to the demonstrations, Martin’s killing sparked off a firestorm of debate about race relations and self-defense laws. Even President Barack Obama commented on the case, saying “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.”
Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara, said did not ask the judge to release his client on bail because it might “only arouse the fervor” around the case. He said he wanted to secure a safe place for Zimmerman to stay while he faces charges in the case.
The poll showed 68 percent of those surveyed - including 70 percent of whites, 69 percent of blacks and 57 percent of Hispanics - said the real story of that night would probably never be known.
“I think that’s indicative that they don’t really trust the whole narrative,” said Jackson. “I imagine that the way people go on this question is different - whites don’t think the same things happened as African Americans, for instance, but they all believed that they’re not going to know what really happened.”
The survey included 1,289 Caucasians, 219 African-Americans and 267 Hispanics. The precision of the Reuters/Ipsos online poll is measured using a credibility interval and this poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points for all respondents.
The credibility interval for whites was 3.2 percentage points, for African-Americans it was 7.7 points and for Hispanics was 7 points.
The poll also showed a stark racial divide between whites and blacks over whether heavy media coverage of the case had been appropriate. A total of 68 percent of blacks surveyed said they thought the amount of media coverage had been appropriate, while only 24 percent of whites thought it was right.
Editing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Peter Cooney