WASHINGTON (AP) – Far more whites than blacks say O.J. Simpson will be tried fairly in his armed robbery case and think he is guilty, according to a poll released Thursday that underscores the nation’s racial divide over its justice system and the tarnished celebrity.

While 70 percent of whites said they believe this month’s charges against Simpson are true, only 41 percent of blacks said so, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. And while 73 percent of whites said they believe he will have a fair trial, only 36 percent of blacks agreed.

“Go all over the country and it’s just like that, unfortunately,” said Robert Wright, 66, a Falls Church, Va., accountant who said he believes he has been questioned by police because he is black. “A black person is likely to get treated and charged differently than a white person.”

For nearly every question, the survey elicited clashing views from whites and blacks, as the one-time football hero and movie star reprises the role he played a decade ago when his murder trial became a litmus test of racial attitudes.

Three-quarters of whites said Simpson has been treated fairly so far by the authorities in Las Vegas, where he is accused of leading a group who seized sports memorabilia items at gunpoint from two men in a hotel room. Only about four in 10 blacks said his handling has been fair, while about the same number felt the opposite.

And by 76 percent to 15 percent, whites said they are unsympathetic toward Simpson based on the latest charges against him. Blacks leaned the same way, but by 53 percent to 37 percent.

Black discontent has also echoed recently over the “Jena 6” case, in which a half-dozen black high school students in Louisiana were arrested after an attack on a white student and five were initially accused of attempted second-degree murder.

Mark Chappie, 38, a white truck driver from Milwaukee, Wis., said he has faith in the country’s justice system.

“I don’t think race will be something, because the guy was a sports star and he kind of crossed lines,” Chappie said.

Nathalie Jones, 30, of West Palm Beach, Fla., said she believed Simpson’s 1995 acquittal in the killings of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman would make a fair trial impossible.

“The first case that he had I think a lot of people felt that he got away with murder,” said Jones, who runs a shelter for teenage girls. “Honestly, I don’t think it’s his race. I think it’s that first trial.”

The poll provided some evidence that blacks are rallying behind Simpson less today than they did immediately after his 1995 acquittal. He was later found liable for their deaths in a civil suit, and has been involved other times with police, including a 2003 incident in which Simpson’s teenage daughter, Sydney, called police to their Florida home but filed no charges.

In an October 1995 Washington Post poll, blacks said they believed Simpson was not guilty of the killings by 71 percent to 24 percent. Asked a similar question about that crime in this week’s AP-Ipsos survey, they leaned toward innocence by a narrower 46 percent to 31 percent margin.

If anything, whites’ attitudes about those deaths have slightly hardened. They said they believed Simpson was guilty by 72 percent to 20 percent in 1995, and by 74 percent to 10 percent in the newest survey.

On a larger question, it is whites whose opinions have edged slightly toward those of blacks over the past decade.

Asked if blacks and other minorities can receive equal justice to whites under the nation’s justice system, almost nine in 10 blacks answered “no” in the 1995 poll and again this month. Whites said they could by 52 percent to 42 percent in the old survey, but in the newest poll said they could not receive equal justice by a small 50 percent to 44 percent margin.

In general, lower-earning people, the young and males were likelier to view Simpson’s case and his prospects for fair treatment more sympathetically. Republicans tended to feel more negatively about him than Democrats and independents.

On one question the two races agreed wholeheartedly: Nearly nine in 10 of each said they are tired of hearing about Simpson.

“When I heard about it, I just cut my TV off,” Barbara Sanders, 60, of Smithfield, N.C., said of the latest charges against Simpson. “People get tired of it.”

The survey was taken from Sept. 21-25 and involved telephone interviews with 1,317 adults. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Included were interviews with 368 blacks, for whom the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 5 percentage points. In addition, 865 whites were interviewed, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

On the Net:


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.