The results of this year's most unnecessary opinion poll, conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, reveal -- to the surprise of no one -- that the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin "has produced dramatically different reactions among blacks and whites." The only points of interest here are the actual numbers. While 86% of blacks polled disapprove of Zimmerman's acquittal, only 31% of whites agree with them. A bare majority of whites, 51%, endorse the verdict, though this number is skewed by partisanship. If you're a white Republican, you're more than twice as likely to endorse the acquittal than if you're a white Democrat. In plain numbers, 70% of white Republicans applaud the verdict while only 30% of white Democrats do. Nor would it surprise me if black Republicans proved less likely to reject the verdict than black Democrats.
The comments thread may be more interesting than the poll report, though there's little new there, either. As usual, blacks are accused of wanting to make more of the Zimmerman case than the facts merit, while critics of the acquittal generally refuse to give Zimmerman any benefit of the doubt that jurors were obliged to extend to him. Among Zimmerman's apologists, it's tantamount to thoughtcrime to question the acquittal; doing so proves that you're guided by emotion rather than fact, at one extreme, or at the other, that you're nothing but a cynical demagogue or race hustler. Nor are critics of the acquittal free of bad faith. Among them, the suspicion is implicit (to say the least) that your mere acceptance of the acquittal proves that you value a black life less than another. This doesn't necessarily follow if you share the defense attorney's assumption that, had Martin been white, Zimmerman would never have been tried. The real difference in perception all along has everything to do with white-on-black violence. One side tends to assume that such violence always has a political component, for want of a better word. The other doesn't make the same assumption, though some apologists for Zimmerman make a vice versa assumption that Martin was lashing out at "Whitey," just as critics of the acquittal allegedly are. It probably annoys some white observers that so many blacks feel solidarity with Martin, since most of the whites most likely would not feel any solidarity with the theoretical white Martin.
In fact, some point to the case of a "black George Zimmerman" who killed an unarmed white teen in New York State and was acquitted on self-defense grounds, to show that race need not color our perceptions of such incidents. That is, white apologists for Zimmerman don't see the New York shooting as a racial incident, and don't vilify the black shooter for killing a white boy, so no one should see the Florida shooting as a racial incident or vilify Zimmerman just because Martin was black. Their belief is that you only portray the Florida shooting as a racial incident to advance a political agenda, but it can be argued that they portray the Florida and New York shootings as two of a kind to advance an agenda of their own -- which has less to do with race than with granting gun owners the maximum legal discretion to shoot people who threaten them. Meanwhile, it would be interesting to see how much blacks sympathize with the New York shooting victim, though the fact that the white teen was committing an actual crime may make an understandable difference to them. In this case, too, my own view is that the shooter should suffer some penalty for killing an unarmed person, especially since the victim in New York never laid a hand on the shooter. The fact that race does shape perceptions of the Florida incident does take some of the focus off the feature of these incidents that should concern us all: neither George Zimmerman nor his black counterpart in New York needed or should have had the power to kill people. People may complain about how the NAACP, for one, portrays the Florida incident, but it's the NRA that benefits when it becomes all about race.