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Who Cares about Trayvon Martin?

George E. Curry | 4/5/2012, 2:23 p.m.

The shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Fla. has dominated national news lately, with African-Americans more than twice as likely as whites to follow the story very closely, according to a study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

The study, conducted March 22-25, found that 70 percent of African-Americans followed the story very closely, compared to 30 percent of whites. Women were more likely to closely follow events surrounding Martin's death than men, 40 percent to 29 percent. There was also a political divide, with 50 percent of Democrats saying they followed the story very closely, compared to 31 percent of Republicans and 26 percent of independents.

Older respondents followed the story more closely than younger people. The study found that 40 percent of those 65 and older followed the story very closely, trailed by the 50-64 age group (37 percent), 30-49 (33 percent) and 18-29 (26 percent).

When pollsters approached the issue another way by asking respondents to rank their top stories, there was also a sharp racial divide. Fifty-two percent of blacks ranked the Travon Martin story as their top pick, followed by the presidential elections at 13 percent. Whites were almost evenly divided, with 20 percent ranking the death of Trayvon Martin as No.1, edging out the presidential election at 19 percent. Among Whites, the economy was a close third at 17 percent. The economy was a distant third among African-Americans, with only a 7 percent ranking.

The wide gulf between the views of whites and blacks on race is nothing new. The two communities hold distinctly different views toward law enforcement officials. While whites tend to view cops as protective allies, many African-Americans, especially males, live in fear of being mistreated by police officers.

A 2009 study by the Pew Research Center found that 38 percent of Whites expressed a great deal of confidence in local police treating Blacks and Whites equally. However, only 14 percent of African-Americans shared that view. At the other end of the spectrum, 34 percent of Blacks expressed very little confidence in police treating Blacks and Whites equally, a view shared by 9 percent of Whites.

Interestingly, the national news media did not provide widespread coverage of the Feb. 26 Trayvon Martin shooting until a month later. In the meantime, the Black Press and social media kept the story alive. Release of the 911 tapes and the public outcry that followed forced national media organizations to take notice.

A 2010 Pew study found that African-Americans are highly critical of news coverage of their community.

"Nearly six-in-ten (58 percent) said that coverage of blacks was too negative. Just half as many (29 percent) said the coverage was either fair (28 percent) or too positive (1 percent)," the report said. "By contrast, nearly half (48 percent) of whites said that coverage of blacks was generally fair. Just 31 percent of whites thought that news coverage of blacks was too negative." In addition, 51 percent of Blacks said race relations received too little media coverage while only 24 percent of Whites agreed with that opinion.