When the Zimmerman "not guilty" verdict came in, I had a flash back to another (in)famous "Not guilty" verdict.
Shortly after the "not guilty" verdict came out in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial, I was a guest interview on a number of radio talk shows, since I had been an advisor to the prosecution in that trial. However within two days I had a different response to the verdict than the rest of the prosecution team or for that matter most white people I know.
My initial reaction was similar to most members of the prosecution and many of the white people I knew in feeling outrage at the verdict, that the case was stacked against getting a fair trial and that the other side including black supporters were gloating and euphoric over their unjust victory.
However a couple days later I realized something. I said to one of my black friends named Ike, "It's been a couple days and the 'not guilty' verdict and feeling the deck was stacked against us is still making me sick. Then I realized that you have probably felt that the deck was stacked against you."
"Add racial profiling and various other indignities to that," Ike replied.
"How long have you felt that way?" I asked.
"It's never been any different," Ike said.
"That's so horrendous, why didn't you tell me it was so bad?" I asked.
"Because, YOU DIDN'T WANT TO KNOW," Ike said, delivering his verdict on me.
"Guilty as charged," I said with deep embarrassment.
What does this have to do with the Zimmerman verdict, the reactions afterwards and what those reactions really need from all of us, black or white or otherwise to move past them and grow from them?
Clearly the black community has trouble in getting the white community to get what it feels or to give a darn about what it feels. That was the same in reverse with the O.J. criminal trial, where the white community couldn't get the black community to car about its cries of "unfairness" and "unjust verdict." In both cases the reality is that according to the laws and evidence and jury decisions, both verdicts were "just," but a just verdict does not always a fair verdict make. But that doesn't matter.
What matters is that nearly all people have felt unfairly judged (a.k.a. negatively profiled) for something in their lives they didn't do or that was out of their control. Nearly everyone has felt judged (even by themselves) for being stupid, ugly, goofy, clumsy, awkward, boring, melodramatic, etc. and/or for not being smart enough, pretty enough, athletic enough, cool enough, rich enough. hard-working enough, etc.
The majority of such people that have felt unfairly judged have gotten past the "slings and arrows" of the world around them, but never gotten completely over it. So underneath what may appear to be a surface equanimity and calmness is a festering wound inside that hasn't healed and that may be easily provoked into a fulminating sore by anything resembling being unfairly judged.
The challenge now is how to get others to understand and care about how you feel and then to take that into consideration in ways they interact with you afterwards. After my conversation with Ike described above, I have never since taken for granted what it must be like for someone else to be profiled, have something stacked against them and to have the oppressors gloat disdainfully.
What happened to me is that prior to the O.J. criminal trial, I couldn't truly understand Ike's deeply painful and angering feelings (although I could claim to intellectually understand them). But when I felt his feelings when they applied to me in the immediate aftermath of the O.J. verdict, the empathy I finally and deeply felt and the attunement I felt with his inner long-standing angst made it impossible to feel anger towards him.
Neuropsychologically you cannot feel accurate empathy -- which is a sensory experience -- towards someone and anger -- which is a motoric impulse -- at them at the same moment.
In essence, when you walk in another person's shoes, you can't step on their toes.
The time has come for all of us to take long walks in each other's shoes and in how they feel about the world, about us and about how they feel we feel towards them.