Will Wilkinson points out an important paradox in the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, that while the injustice in this case may be that a guilty man went free, the larger and more common injustice in our system is the innocent person, nearly always poor and dark-skinned, who is convicted unjustly:
“In Texas you can get away with shooting someone to death if they’re running away with your property. That’s insane, and it’s easy to see how a law like that rigs the system in favour of people with a lot of property—a class that remains disproportionately white and male. However, on the whole, our criminal-justice system is so frightfully racist because it’s too easy for prosecutors, not because it’s too hard. Of course, in a racist society, rules that help defendants are going to help the most privileged defendants the most, and that’s maddening. But that shouldn’t stop us from recognizing that the least privileged, the most oppressed, the most discriminated against, are far and away most likely to stand accused. That’s why I suspect that a legal system making it harder for the likes of Mr Zimmerman to get away with it would be a system of even more outrageous racial inequity.”
This is a very good point, regardless of whether the outcome in this particular case was correct or not. The astonishingly racist nature of our criminal (in)justice system is found primarily in convictions, not acquittals. And the overwhelming majority of those convictions (well over 90%) are the result of guilty pleas from those who have public defenders representing them (about 80%), with no resources or time to go to trial and mount a defense at all.
Both are bad, of course — guilty people with means getting off and innocent people without means getting convicted. But the latter tends to have a much bigger effect on far more people.