07/17/2013 05:17 pm ET Updated Sep 15, 2013

The Zimmerman Jury Got It Wrong: New Case, Age-old Issue

I watched as much as I could of the George Zimmerman trial and was amazed at how both sides insisted it was not "about race." Any black man in America knows better than that.

Our prison system is running over with young black males who can attest that their race has more than a little to do with their incarceration. Just by looking at fellow inmates they can see that just being born black in the USA carries a penalty in our criminal justice system.

The Zimmerman acquittal shed light on the essential heart of America racialism. For example, a juror interviewed on Anderson Cooper's CNN show last night personified the black-white cultural divide. She clearly could relate to a white investigator's testimony and find him credible, but she perceived a young black woman who witnessed Trayvon Martin's death by cellphone as alien. The juror, whose identity was hidden, said she felt sorry for Martin's friend, but did not find her testimony credible.

It was truly revealing that this juror repeatedly referred to the killer as "George," as if she had become friends with Zimmerman. What a sacrifice of her basic humanity was needed for this woman to create such a terrible disconnect that she felt more empathy for the armed and dangerous pursuer of this young man than for the menacing adult who took his life. There is something missing, a terrible disconnect.

Unless we believe everything George Zimmerman and his lawyers told the court, we will never know all the facts in this tragedy. We do know that Zimmerman is a free man today. And young Martin is dead. Those two naked facts tell the story of the value America puts on a young man's life if he is black.

They say it's not about race, but 50 years after Medgar Evers was shot down at his doorstep and Byron de la Beckwith initially went free, we are still a country plagued by racism. It is a sickness that permeates every corner of our society.

Consider, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court's assessment that "things have changed dramatically," since the Civil Rights era, in its ruling last month that gutted the Voting Rights Act. I wonder what Martin Luther King Jr. and others who fought and died trying to fulfill the American promise of equality might say about the state of racial justice today.

We tolerate persistent economic and social inequalities that seem constructed to keep the advantaged white population on top. We live with a criminal justice system that is pocked with sentencing disparities, often incompetent legal representation for poor people and other pitfalls. Equality across will remain an elusive dream until we rid our society of these false barriers that separate us along lines of race and class.

Instead, Americans embrace dangerous laws such as Stand Your Ground acts, now on the books in over 30 states, allowing the George Zimmermans among us to wound and kill with impunity. How could any decent prosecutor have accepted a jury of mostly white women with little in common with the victim to judge this case? Why was the prosecution so weak in relating the tragic death story of Trayvon Martin, who alone could not speak for himself? Who actually bloodied George Zimmerman? Who will be penalized for failing to charge him for six weeks? The prosecutors failed this young man, and his family, and our society. His killer now walks free -- until the next time he is terrified by a boy in a hoodie.

Finally, the debate about this case must include the issue of gun control, which lies behind so many of our tragic losses. Yet President Obama's gun legislation has yet to move forward in Congress. How different the outcome might have been for Trayvon Martin if Zimmerman's history of out-of-control behavior had prevented him from being licensed to carry a concealed weapon and follow a child because he looked like previous burglary suspects.

One point of admiration and respect rises above otherwise questionable behavior in this debacle. That is the conduct of Trayvon Martin's grieving parents. They have handled this unbearable loss of their child with grace, dignity and respect. We all might learn from their conduct.

The greatest lesson in all of this, however, is that race is still a huge factor in America life.
Next month we will pause to honor a 50-year-old "dream" of harmony and equality, one that is still far from reality.