On Justice And Equality

By , Richard J. Cattani is editor of the Monitor. This column was written in tribute to Curtis J. Sitomer, former managing editor of the Monitor and longtime author of its "Justice" column. Mr. Sitomer passed on recently in Boston.

AN innate sense of justice is embedded in the public psyche - but so is its opposite.

We refer to justice routinely. We say "justice was done" when describing agreement to the redress of a grievance. We "do" justice: To "do justice to" a task implies an effortful human activity and not simply an abstract condition reached.

Justice, innate in children, is often invoked to maintain the status quo. Schoolchildren protest "That's not fair" when a ruling goes against their expectations. What they want is inaction.

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It takes moral courage to sort through the warring tendencies implicit in the concept of justice. But it is crucial to do so. The media, educators, public figures, parents, have a moral responsibility to show why justice is superior to its opposite, which regularly lays claim to the same identity.

One point is not commonly observed: Justice is a source of supply.

The opposite is generally assumed: that if one side wins, the other loses. I have seen, in running organizations, that every effort toward equality in the application of rules and opportunity has borne an unanticipated reward in the release of positive, creative energy. The net available institutional resource has been expanded. To treat all under the same basic rules breaks the mesmerism of "mine." This "mine" of the status quo is an impediment to change, a resisting force, an inertia.

Nominal equality is not enough, but it is a place to start. Sixteen of the 32 Rhodes Scholars announced this week were women. The largest number of women previously was 14. Such efforts at equality will steadily bear fruit in outlying years. Analyses of the past election showed that this class of women, young and educated and working, is the most politically active element in the American electorate today. They have an energy about them that will establish itself in greater equality of opportunity and th e release of their intelligence, artistry, and competence.

The South benefited enormously from the dropping of racial barriers during the 1960s. Manufacturing growth, technology centers, recognition of college campuses, two presidential election victories, have followed the defeat of racial inequality in that region.

The nation's cities are the next great potential resource for American advance as a result of applying justice and equality.

Bill Walsh, former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers and now again running Stanford University's football program, argues that the United States should pour resources into its inner-city schools. Make them community centers again. Keep them open evenings. Relaunch music programs. Offer sports. Computer skills training. Hire enough police to keep order. Why not a war on this terrible waste of human lives in the cities?

Perceived injustice is destructive. I was in the midst of the Detroit urban riots of 25 years ago. I drove through the curfewed nights on emergency hospital runs and witnessed the urban inferno. It was, frankly, the fear that more riots would follow in America as much as an impulse to right wrongs that led to civil rights legislation. But there are enough positive reasons today to advance under fairness.

I raise this now while President-elect Clinton is just warming up on his decisionmaking. He must be fair fearlessly, the way Lincoln was. He will have to work constantly at explaining why he is being fair. It will take vision, wisdom, and the strength at times to watch his popular base erode.

We have just lived through a dozen years of the "individualism" swing of the American political pendulum. The momentum now is back toward the "equality" tendencies of the American character. This could be a long run for moderate Republicans and liberal/moderate Democrats. Ethnic diversity must be embraced, the abilities of women recognized. But whites generally, and middle-aged males, must also be kept in the game. They have to be included in the epoch of opportunity that lies ahead.

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