Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

From courts to cops to shops: Where blacks perceive discrimination

The way that blacks are treated by a number of institutions and businesses – from the criminal justice system to big-name department stores – has become a major issue in New York City.


Last week, a federal appeals court halted changes to the New York Police Department’s sweeping “stop-and-frisk” program. And, New York’s attorney general announced that is investigating allegations of racial profiling at Barneys and Macy’s as several black customers claim they were wrongly targeted as shoplifters. A 19-year-old black man asserted in a lawsuit that police detained him on suspicion of stealing a belt from Barneys that he had paid for.

A nationwide Pew Research Center survey in August found that substantial percentages of blacks see unfair treatment in many aspects of life, especially by the criminal justice system. Fully 70% said that blacks in their community were treated less fairly than whites in dealing with the police and about as many (68%) said the same about the courts. By contrast, just 37% of whites said blacks were treated less fairly by the police and 27% said they received less fair treatment by the courts.

Among blacks, roughly half said blacks were treated less fairly than whites at work (54%) or in schools (51%). In those instances, as well, blacks were more likely than whites or Hispanics to say there was unfair treatment.

Perceptions of unfair treatment by stores and restaurants were less widespread among blacks– 44% (and 16% of whites) said that stores and restaurants treated blacks less fairly than whites. Notably, while there were few significant demographic differences in blacks’ opinions, blacks living in urban areas were more likely than suburban blacks to express the view of unfair treatment in stores or restaurants in their community (49% vs. 36%).

In general, 35% of blacks said they had experienced personal discrimination or unfair treatment based on race or ethnic background in the past year, compared with 20% of Hispanics and 10% of whites.