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Survey: Fewer white Americans say high-profile police killing is an isolated incident

(YouGov)

Fewer white Americans appear to view high-profile police killings of black men as isolated incidents rather than part of a systemic problem in law enforcement.

According to YouGov surveys, 56 percent of white Americans said in January that the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, was an "isolated incident" instead of "part of a broader pattern in the way police treat black men." But in April, fewer white Americans — 36 percent — said the death of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody was an isolated incident, placing them within the margin of error of 38 percent of white Americans who said the death was part of a broader problem.

One way to read this survey is that as time goes on and more of these cases — such as Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina — receive widespread media attention, white Americans are beginning to attribute police killings of black men to broader issues, such as racial disparities in how police use force.

It's also possible that white Americans simply see Gray's death as somehow different from Brown's. In Ferguson, Brown was stopped shortly after he allegedly robbed a convenience store, and a federal investigation found there was no credible evidence to prove Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, was legally in the wrong. But in Baltimore, Gray was unlawfully arrested. He wasn't, as police alleged, in possession of a switchblade — and the fatal spinal cord injury he received was in part a result of officers placing him in the back of a moving police van without a seat belt — a violation of department policy. Perhaps the dissimilarities in these cases are enough to explain the differences in the survey results.

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