Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Zimmerman Verdict Polarizes Workplace

DEAR HARRIETTE: I feel like everybody is up in arms over the George Zimmerman trial and the fact that he was acquitted. People in my neighborhood are talking about it -- screaming about it, really. At work, it is hard to concentrate because so many people are voicing their opinions. It is a little uncomfortable because for the most part, the opinions fall along racial lines. The white people favor Zimmerman, and the black people favor Trayvon Martin. Not all, but many.

I am black, and I have a black son. I am really worried for him. I don't want to be paranoid, but it bothers me a lot that this man killed a black teenager and got away with it. How can I share my opinions, keep my son safe and not get into a heated argument at work? -- Overwhelmed by the News, Shreveport, La.

DEAR OVERWHELMED BY THE NEWS: The George Zimmerman case has awakened many people in our country to some of the deep disparities in thought and law that exist here. Yes, many argue along racial lines, but not everyone. Just witness the huge peaceful rallies that have been conducted across the country. If you look at the faces, they reflect every color.

At work, I would suggest that do your job. Choose to work rather than get into a heated discussion about a topic that, in some ways, is beyond your reach. You can say to your co-workers that you, too, are passionate about this subject, but you are also committed to doing your job. Right now you must focus your attention on that. Apart from work, decide if you want to participate in the many rallies that are being organized or in other ways.

For your son, unfortunately, you do need to teach him to be extremely careful when he is approached by police officers and random others. It is frightening to realize that many young black men are unsafe as soon as they walk outside their doors. But across the country, this is too often true. There have been multiple news reports in the past few days where wealthy, well-educated, well-dressed black men have been pulled over by the police and questioned and arrested for no legitimate reason. And this is when the confrontation is with the law. When the challenge comes from a random citizen, it is even more frightening.

Because this is true, you need to prepare your son to protect himself -- hopefully without instilling too much fear in him in the process. There are no easy answers to this cultural crisis.

You can choose to engage your member of Congress about how to create more protective laws. You can participate in cultural dialogue about this topic -- outside of your workplace. You can follow what Trayvon Martin's parents are doing to attempt to protect young people against the violence that killed their son. To learn more, visit trayvonmartinfoundation.org.