07/19/2013 10:59 am ET Updated Sep 18, 2013

Curious George

As many of you have done these past few days, I've been discussing George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin with people I know, mostly online. One of these people claimed that Zimmerman called the cops and then got out of his car and followed Martin because he was "curious" and "concerned."

Curious George. That's all he was. A concerned citizen. A curious one. Not a menace. Not a would be vigilante, or a wannabe cop who followed someone even though the neighborhood watch rules in Sanford, Florida say don't engage and don't follow, call the cops and stand aside. Just curious.

Curious George.

Curious is one way to describe his actions. I'll let you all imagine some other adjectives.

The person with whom I was discussing the case asked me to imagine what Curious George must have felt, living in a neighborhood where there had been a string of burglaries recently, apparently committed by young black men. I replied, OK, now you do some imagining for me:

Imagine being a black teenager in a society where every time you went out someone called the cops, and the cops came and followed you. Every time. Or, even worse, if someone without a badge or a uniform got "curious" and followed you for three, or four, or five blocks?

Imagine how you'd feel if every time you went out, some non-black person treated you like a possible or even probable criminal (and that's how "curious George" likely treated Trayvon Martin), even if you were the law abiding person you are? After all, if it's ok for Zimmerman to have done it, why wouldn't it be ok for it to happen all the time? Would that be sustainable as a society?

Would you, in response to this kind of treatment, say to yourself?:

"Well, people who have the same skin color as I do commit crimes at a higher percentage than other people -- even though of course the overwhelming majority of black people and even young black men don't commit any violent crimes at all, and comparatively few of those are committed against random strangers of another race -- but despite those details of course you're justified in assuming I'm likely about to commit a crime no matter what I really am. I totally understand your fears and take no personal offense. Have a lovely day. I'll just get down on my knees and put my hands up now so there's no confusion."

There was no response to those questions.

I understand what it's like to be white, to think about crime and want to do what I can to protect my family and neighbors. Of course, every American of every race thinks about these things. But the answer cannot be -- on the basis of one's curiosity -- to treat every black person, or every young black male as a probable criminal.

It's counterproductive, immoral, and, oh yeah, the Constitution gives them the same rights and freedoms it does me.