By Curtis Skinner
Aug 18 (Reuters) - U.S. blacks are twice as likely as whites to view the fatal Missouri shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer through the lens of race, according to a nationwide poll released on Monday.
Four out of five black respondents said the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson earlier this month and the ensuing week of sometimes violent protests highlighted important issues of race in the United States that need to be discussed.
That compares with fewer than two in five whites who viewed the shooting and subsequent protests in that way, according to the survey from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
Most of the 21,000 residents in Ferguson are black, and the eight nights of clashes in the St. Louis suburb have pitted mostly black demonstrators against mostly white police.
Some residents have said Brown's death symbolizes how blacks are treated unfairly in a town run by a white minority, and roughly two-thirds of black people polled agreed, saying the police's tactics had gone too far. Only a third of whites said law enforcement had been too heavy-handed.
Police have maintained that their tactics have been an appropriate response to the looting and violence.
The poll also showed that 76 percent of black respondents had little or no confidence in the police investigation into the shooting, while over half of whites said they were fairly or very confident in probes by law enforcement.
While the opinions of black and white Americans on the shooting are starkly divergent, the idea that race had a role in the incident is more prevalent among whites than in the Trayvon Martin case, another high-profile killing of an unarmed black teenager.
Last July, Pew asked whether the fatal shooting of Martin by community watch volunteer George Zimmerman revealed problems with race in the country. Sixty percent of whites said then that race was getting too much attention in that case, compared with 47 percent of whites who were asked about Brown's death. Opinions of black respondents were largely unchanged in regard to both cases.
Pew spoke with 1,000 adults from Thursday to Sunday. The margin of error in the poll ranged from 3.6 to 11.2 percentage points. Roughly seven times as many whites were polled than blacks. (Reporting by Curtis Skinner in New York; Editing by Eric Walsh and Peter Cooney)