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Black Boys Feel Less Safe In Whiter Neighborhoods, Ohio State Study Finds

An Ohio State researcher released a study showing black boys' sense of safety in Columbus differs with the racial makeup of their surroundings. The study used smart phones and text messages to assess how participants felt.

The study tracked black youths between 11 and 17 for a week, sending text messages five times a day asking how safe they felt. Sociologist Christopher Browning says the study revealed boys were about 60 percent more likely to report feeling less safe when they passed into areas whiter than their own.

“And this makes sense to the extent black youth, black males in particular, who are exposed to white areas may feel scrutiny,” Browning says. "They may feel vulnerable to potential harassment by police. They may be seeing stories in the media, talking to friends, talking to family members about possible threats when they go to whiter places, and this may make them feel less secure in those places about their safety."

Browning says the effect showed up regardless of how integrated or well-off a boy’s home neighborhood might be.

"It's not like the effect is just observed for kids who live in segregated areas,” he explains. “A black male could live in a more integrated neighborhood, go to a still whiter place, and then still feel the same discomfort."

But black girls responded differently in Browning’s study. Moving through whiter areas didn’t seem to affect their sense of safety.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.