Whites in the U.S. approve of police officers hitting people in far greater numbers than blacks and Hispanics do, at a time when the nation is struggling to deal with police use of deadly force against men of color, according to a major trend survey, the Associated Press reports. Seven of 10 whites polled said they can imagine a situation in which they would approve of a police officer striking an adult male citizen, says the 2014 General Social Survey. Asked the same question, 42 percent of blacks and 38 percent of Hispanics said they could.
The poll results don’t surprise experts on attitudes toward police, who say experiences and history with law enforcement shape opinions about the use of violence by officers. “Whites are significantly more likely to give police officers the benefit of the doubt, either because they have never had an altercation with a police officer or because they tend to see the police as allies in the fight against crime,” said George Washington University sociology Prof. Ronald Weitzer. Blacks and Hispanics “are more cautious on this issue because of their personal experiences and/or the historical treatment their groups have experienced at the hands of the police, which is only recapitulated in recent disputed killings,” he said. The General Social Survey is conducted by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.