There are no winners in the trial of George Zimmerman. The only question is whether the damage that has been done has been transient or irreparable.
Legally speaking, Zimmerman has won his freedom. But he can still be sued in a civil case, and will probably never be safe to live his life in peace, as he could have before this case made him the focus of national attention and orchestrated hate.
More important than the fate of Zimmerman, however, is the fate of the American justice system and of the public's faith in it.
That this case was brought in the first place, in an absence of serious evidence -- which became painfully obvious as the prosecution strained to find evidence worthy of a murder trial in the death of Trayvon Martin -- will be of limited encouragement as to how long this will remain America.
The political perversion of the criminal justice system began early and at the top, with the president. Unlike other public officials who decline to comment on criminal cases that have not yet been tried in court, Barack Obama chose to say, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."
It was a clever way to play the race card. But it did not stop there. After the local police found insufficient evidence to prosecute Zimmerman, the Obama administration sent Justice Department investigators to Sanford, Fla., and used the taxpayers' money to finance local activists who agitated for Zimmerman to be arrested.
Political intervention did not end with the federal government. The city manager in Sanford prevented usual police procedures from being followed.
When the question arose of identifying the voice of whoever was calling for help during the confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman, normal police procedure would have had individuals hear the recording separately in an effort to get honest opinions, rather than have a whole family hear it together.
When the city manager took this out of the hands of the police, and had Martin's family, plus Rachel Jeantel, all hear the recording together, that's politics, not law.
This was just one of the flaws in the handling of this case. Both in the courtroom and in the media, educated and apparently intelligent people repeatedly said things that they seem to sincerely believe, but which were unprovable and often even unknowable.
In addition, the testimony of prosecution witness after prosecution witness undermined the prosecution's own case. Some critics faulted the prosecuting attorneys. But the prosecutors had to work with what they had -- and they had no hard evidence to back up a murder charge or even a manslaughter charge.
You don't send people to prison on the basis of what other people imagine, or on the basis of media sound bites like "shooting an unarmed child," when that "child" was beating him bloody.
The jury indicated, early on as their deliberations began, that they wanted to compare hard evidence, when they asked for a complete list of the testimony on both sides.
Once the issue boiled down to hard, provable facts, the prosecutors' loud histrionic assertions and sweeping innuendoes were just not going to cut it.
Nor was repeatedly calling Zimmerman a liar effective, especially when the prosecution misquoted what he said.
The only real heroes in this trial were the jurors. They showed that this is still America, despite politicians who try to cheapen or corrupt the law. Some are already calling for a federal indictment of Zimmerman, after he has been acquitted.
Will this still be America then?
Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.