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The Color of Justice

The Color of JusticeRichard Lerner, Bergstrom chair in Applied Developmental Science at Tufts, provides a voice for minority youth as a pattern of segregation continues into the 21st century.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.17.08] The word "segregation" may not be as close to the tip of American tongues as it was several decades ago, but the concept is alive and well, according to Tufts' Richard Lerner.

In a recent op-ed piece for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Lerner, Bergstrom chair in Applied Developmental Science at Tufts, proposes that the United States may not be as close to equality as we think.

Looking back to the Kerner Commission reports from 1968, which concluded that the nation was "moving to two societies: one black, one white; separate and unequal," Lerner wrote in the Journal Sentinel he felt little progress had been made to discredit this statement in terms of minority youth.

"Nationally, black youth are referred to juvenile justice courts at a rate twice their proportion in the population," Lerner wrote. "Even when charged with the same offense, black youth are more likely to be placed into detention facilities than are whites. In turn, black and Latino youth are less likely to be placed on probation than are white youth."

Lerner said the odds are stacked against black and Latino children, who currently are 300 percent more likely to grow up in poverty than white children - circumstances that in turn, affect their "health, education, employment and ultimately feelings of hope for the future."

"The mortality rate for infants born to black mothers is more than twice as high as corresponding mortality rates for infants born to white mothers," wrote Lerner, who is also the director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development. "If they live, black youth receive fewer primary care or mental health services than their white peers. These racial differences exist even when socioeconomic status and insurance status are taken into account."

In addition to these statistics, Lerner said that state and local tax revenue spent per student is nearly $1,000 less in school districts with higher minority enrollment, while the percentage of jobless black teens between the ages of 16 and 19 has consistently lingered around 20 percent higher than that of white teens in the same age range.

"We cannot deny the data or try to explain the facts away by claiming they reflect the outcomes of personal or cultural shortcoming," Lerner wrote in the opinion piece. "Combating racism begins with Americans evaluating their own values and behavior about race. Race needs to be dealt with by elected officials in a transparent, objective and proactive manner. All Americans must reject the idea that different life chances for racial groups are somehow natural or expected.

"'Liberty and justice for all' must not remain empty words for our nation's children of color."

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