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Expert: New Generation Making Progress Addressing Long Island's Struggles With Racism

SMITHTOWN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Voices were raised across Long Island on Monday.

A strikingly peaceful array: multi-racial, multi-ethnic.

The few clashes amplified by social media stood out as ugly exceptions, CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff reported.

In Merrick, residents ordered marchers away after social media stoked fears of looting and violence.

In Smithtown, counter protesters gathered, insults were hurled and a racial epithet was lobbed.

A teen was bloodied.

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The clashes beg the question: what's simmering under the neat suburban landscape?

"It's easy to understand the misinformation, the fear and ignorance, that can be ignited by social media," said Lawrence Levy of Hofstra University's Suburban Studies Center.


Levy said racism was planted in the roots of suburbia -- "whites-only" deeds in the Island's first development, unequal education, and real estate practices that still discriminate.

"Considering Long Island's long history of race discrimination and its current extreme segregation, I consider it almost progress that we have seen so few of the kinds of backlash counter protests that we saw in Merrick and in Smithtown," Levy said.

Yet, counter-protesters see no need for marches here.

"The people of Smithtown and good people. I grew up there, born and raised. They feel that they're not the problem. They're not the ones abusing blacks. They're not the ones trying to keep blacks down, and they support the police department," said attorney and conservative commentator Phillip Jusino.

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But it's not ancient history. The divide is still felt by Dr. William Spencer, a physician and leader of the Suffolk County Legislature.

"I have been pulled over many times for just driving in a particular neighborhood where I didn't fit in," Dr. Spencer said.

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Long Island is counted among the 10 most segregated metro regions in the country, according to the organization Erase Racism.

"We are talking about residential segregation and that stems from our history of being segregated intentionally by the federal government. We have 125 school districts that mirror the residential segregation," said Erase Racism president Elaine Gross. "I am concerned that we have not addressed structural racism. We have not really gotten underneath the divisions that are part of our history."

But now, ugly remnants are being confronted by a new generation.

"They've been saying get out, go back to your countries. They've been so hurtful it kind of makes cry when I go to the protests," said Francesca Miranda, Justice For George organizer.

"Things are changing. The number of people, moderate, white suburbanites, who are out there in some of the protests on behalf of Black Lives Matter is something I don't think you would have seen 20 years ago," Levy said.

Protests large and small are demanding change from America's first suburb.

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