Poll finds sharp racial, political divide over verdict in Zimmerman trial

The public reaction to George Zimmerman’s acquittal of murder and manslaughter charges in the shooting death of black teenager Trayvon Martin breaks strongly along racial and political lines, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Monday.

According to the survey, 86 percent of blacks disagree with the jury’s not-guilty verdict, while a majority of whites, 51 percent, said the jury returned the proper decision.

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In addition, 87 percent of blacks said the shooting of Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old, was unjustified, against only 33 percent of whites saying the same.

Eighty-one percent of blacks polled said the Justice Department should charge Zimmerman with federal civil rights charges, while only 27 percent of whites said the same. Overall, a strong majority, 59 percent, said Zimmerman should not face federal charges.

The trial has also split the public along political lines, with 70 percent of white Republicans approving of the verdict against only 30 percent of white Democrats.

Zimmerman’s attorneys argued that he acted in self-defense, but civil rights groups have led demonstrations across the country, alleging racial bias in the verdict. Liberal groups and some Democrats have called for Attorney General Eric Holder to take up the case.

Holder said last week the DOJ would review the evidence in the case.

Last week, President Obama also waded into controversy, delivering personal remarks on race relations and his own experiences with discrimination. 

Obama said the verdict was a bitter pill for many blacks, who he said deal with racial prejudice throughout their lives.

“When Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son,” Obama said. “Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. When you think about why, in the African-American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African-American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

“There are very few African-American men who haven't had the experience of being followed in a department store,” Obama added. “That includes me.”

Eighty-six percent of blacks surveyed in the poll said they don’t believe they get equal treatment under the law with 60 percent of Hispanics saying the same. A majority of whites, 54 percent, said there is equal treatment under the law for all groups.

The poll of 1,002 adults was conducted between July 18 and 21 and has a 4.5-percentage point margin of error.