There's a Huge Racial Gap in Trust of Police. Can Congress Fix It?

A new poll reveals that tensions with police are greater for those in African-American communities. Congress may do something about it.

Since black 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by a white officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August, tensions between African-American communities and police forces have escalated throughout the country.

Now, a Gallup Poll shows that African-Americans' trust in their local law-enforcement officials is far lower than that of whites and Hispanics. And members of Congress are preparing to step in.

Overall, 57 percent of Americans trust the police in their neighborhoods. More than 60 percent of whites and exactly 57 percent of Hispanics express faith in the institutions. That number falls dramatically, however, within the black community, where just 34 percent feel confident in the police. In urban communities, blacks feel even less comfortable with their law-enforcement agents. Just 26 percent of African-Americans living in big cities say they trust the police.

In recent weeks, this lack of faith has become kinetic following the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and in Staten Island, N.Y., not to indict police officers in the death of Brown or in the July choke-hold death of Eric Garner.

While instances of police and community fracturing have long been an issue, the Congressional Black Caucus says it is preparing to unveil a package of reforms as early as this week that would address some of the uneasiness within the black community.

"It goes well beyond just training the police. It goes well beyond body cameras, so we are going to try to put together a comprehensive plan," says Rep. Marcia Fudge, the CBC chair. She declined to offer any more details of the plan, as she said it was still being worked out.

Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., argues that now was the time for the CBC to act.

"It has been an ongoing struggle for recognition of dehumanizing policing strategies, and we are at a point now where people are actually seeing it, and that it is no longer a figment of our imagination or an overreaction," Clarke says.

The new Gallup Poll revealed that Republicans tend to be more trusting of police forces, but House Speaker John Boehner signaled last week that even he is open to holding hearings in the House to address the killings of unarmed black men. It's a sign that Republicans and Democrats may be willing to sidestep congressional gridlock and work together on reforms.

"I do think the American people deserve more answers about what really happened here and was our system of justice handled properly," Boehner said.

A new Bloomberg-Businessweek poll reveals that public opinion is still very divided along racial lines over the grand jury's decision in Ferguson. A staggering 71 percent of blacks said that they strongly disagreed with the grand jury, while only 15 percent of whites felt the same way. Meanwhile, 64 percent of whites strongly agreed or agreed with the decision compared with just 4 percent of blacks.

That split isn't quite as stark in the Staten Island case. Fifty-two percent of whites believed that the grand jury failed when it did not indict the officer who choked Eric Garner for selling cigarettes on the street, compared with 90 percent of blacks.