07/15/2013 01:04 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2013

The Zimmerman Verdict

So now we send another message to the world about ourselves: our culture and our justice system deem it acceptable for an armed, self-appointed vigilante to follow and kill a young man for no greater an offense than being black.

Oh, I know that's a simplification, but that's how it will be seen. And that's the heart of it.

How could it be otherwise? We have allowed all sane restrictions on lethal weapons to lapse; it is permissible for almost anyone to purchase a gun and take the law into their own hands; the notion of self-defense is expanded to include the smallest perception of threat; we blithely accept that any young black man is a potential criminal, and incarcerate them at disproportionate rates; we offer the least privileged among us pitifully little in the way of education and opportunity, and treat them with draconian response when they turn to drugs and petty crime.

And the victim, in this case, was none of these.

It is not hard to conclude that the prosecution was either badly mishandled, or pursued in so half-hearted a way as to assure an outcome favorable to the defense. Who amongst us could doubt that the case would have been handled differently, had the roles been reversed? Had the black youth been the shooter, he would have received none of the kid-glove handling that marked the police response to Zimmerman's actions from the very start. Nor would the media have made of his case a cause célèbre.

And how the world perceives us is the least of it. How do we live with ourselves, when we allow this kind of thing to happen? Are we to continue to be governed by a handful of gun zealots and their corporate sponsors? By laws so lax as to be useless to contain the violence our society condones? By our not-so-covert racism?

If the innocent verdict in this case is an accurate administration of our laws, then I say, shame on us, for a legal system that justifies it.