April 29, 2015 / 7:11 PM / 5 years ago

Nearly half of young Americans lack confidence in justice system: survey

(Reuters) - Nearly half of young Americans believe the U.S. justice system has racial and ethnic biases and they strongly believe the use of police body cameras will make law enforcement fairer, a Harvard University study showed on Wednesday.

A figure of a child holding an open book decorates a flagpole at the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington October 5, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The survey was released as Baltimore recovered from riots this week that followed the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after suffering a spine injury while in police custody.

The unrest has renewed a debate over race and policing that has flared in demonstrations across the country since the deaths last year of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.

In a survey of Americans ages 18 to 29, Harvard’s Institute of Politics asked if they were confident the U.S. judicial system could “fairly judge people without bias for race and ethnicity.”

Forty-nine percent of respondents said they had not much or no confidence, the researchers said.

Among African-Americans, 66 percent said they had not much or no confidence in the system’s fairness, while 53 percent of Hispanics expressed similar misgivings, the study found.

The survey also found 80 percent of those asked said equipping police officers with body cameras could help reduce racial inequalities in the justice system.

The finding comes a day after the Los Angeles Police Commission approved rules governing the widespread use of body cameras in the nation’s second largest city, bringing it a step closer to becoming the largest U.S. metropolis to provide the vast majority of officers with the devices.

Young Americans demonstrated a racial divide in their view of the Black Lives Matter movement that has arisen in response to high-profile incidents of police use of force.

Only 37 percent of white people support the movement, compared to 81 percent of African-Americans and 59 percent of Hispanics, the Harvard survey found.

Overall, 59 percent of those asked believe the movement will have little to no effect in changing the criminal justice system.

The survey of 3,034 U.S. citizens has a margin of error of 2.4 percent. It is conducted annually, and this most recent poll took place between March 18 and April 1.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Lambert

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