To the extent that I, as a matter of principle, do not believe in incarceration, I am never sad when someone else is not sent to prison. I would have liked to see Zimmerman found guilty, and I would have liked for him to be compelled to spend his life doing things that would have made him a better person, as a starter things that would not involve guns. I would not like to have seen him sent to a place where the travesty of racial essentialism and inequality in America is concentrated and heightened to an absurd degree, and where people are forced to identify with racial clans in order to stay alive. In prison he would not have learned to regret shooting Trayvon Martin; he would have been deposited into a world that can only make sense by appeal to the same false virtues --self-defense, looking after one's own-- that caused him to commit the murder in the first place.
When I taught in a maximum security prison in Ohio, the guards had to check every day to make sure the class was perfectly balanced between 'races', so that no one group of racially affiliated inmates would feel emboldened enough to gang up on the others and stab them with their pencils (a potential weapon issued cautiously in reward of good conduct) right before my eyes. I've seen enough of prisons to know that no good can come of them. None at all.
If the punishment were to sit in a confined space for years and years in atonement for one's crime, that would be one thing. But that's not what the punishment of imprisonment is. Imprisonment involves living in constant fear of being raped and beaten, and it involves submitting to the very grossest rules of a Hobbesian nightmare world in order to avoid these outcomes. But this is not fitting punishment for any crime.
I'm far more heartbroken today by the existence of the gun laws in Florida that made the acquittal possible and, yes, that made it just in relation to existing law. And I am heartbroken by the fact that it comes at nearly the same time as two similar cases with very different outcomes, and with black defendants.
I am also reminded of the conversation I had with Danielle Allen a year ago about, among other things, the Trayvon Martin case. She argued that the initial arrest of Zimmerman was a result of mass public contestation of what until that point had seemed a normal and acceptable state of affairs, and that in this respect as a historical event it looked very much like one of the pivotal moments of the early Civil Rights era. I hope there will be more contestation, of course, now that the arrest and trial have come to nothing; and I hope George Zimmerman will come to use his freedom well, and towards eventual redemption.