SCANDALOUS!" judges France's Mitterrand, from a system that does not give the accused the presumption of innocence.
"The Los Angeles jury could not have done more damage to their country's image abroad if they had tried," wrote the Japan Times, from a system that does not entrust decisions to juries in criminal cases.
Most Americans supinely accept those condemnations. And no doubt the L.A. jury's decision -- in the face of televised evidence of outrageous police brutality -- did trigger riots and scores of deaths, gave credence to charges of racism in our society and shook the confidence of many in American justice.
But the purpose of a jury is neither to project a national image nor to agree with the opinion of most fair-minded observers.
A jury should follow the judge's instructions about rules of evidence, setting aside all outside influence, ideology and prejudice; but in coming to its decision, its members must give the accused the benefit of a reasonable doubt against the charges of the state.
"Viewed from outside the trial," said President Bush, "it was hard to understand how the verdict could square with the video."
True enough; then, in his most presidential speech, he went on to make this unpopular but Lincolnian point: "We must respect the process of law, whether or not we agree with the outcome."
Neither Bill Clinton nor Ross Perot nor any of our commentators had the courage and sense of responsibility to say that.
The bulwark of civil liberty is the jury system; the American Civil Liberties Union abandons principle by failing to defend the rights of jurors to be free of the threat of post-trial inquisition or punishment by publicity.
We can disagree with verdicts without impugning the motives of jurors or demanding that they factor in world opinion.
Before taking the contrarian plunge, let me stipulate this: I believe the tape shows overpowering evidence of excessive use of force. I believe the change of venue to a white suburb was in error and the prosecution was inadequate.
If on the jury, I would have argued that Rodney King was victimized and would have voted to convict the accused policemen.
But I am not about to join in the condemnation of the jury as a pack of racists or fools.
Anybody who has been in a jury room (an eye-opening experience that every American should seek) knows how 12 average people do their best to put themselves in the defendant's shoes, especially when the victim cannot or chooses not to testify.
Although "Acquitted!" was the headline, the jury verdict made this reasoned differentiation: The lawman who seemed most unlawfully savage was not acquitted on one charge of excessive use of force.
Thus did a not completely certain jury say to the state: Pick another jury and let it decide on that accused cop's guilt.
"Twelve Blind Jurors" was the snap judgment of the Economist of Britain, where free speech is denied by repressive libel laws. But perhaps the reviled jurors knew that the alleged victim had other redress for justice.
In Rodney King's civil suit for damages, the standard of judgment is reduced to a preponderance of the evidence, which appears to be on the side of the beaten man. And in the background was a federal statute protecting his civil rights, a grand jury for which was promptly convened, needing no impetus from anti-Asian arsonists or looters.
Amid the world's hypocritical brouhaha, let's cut the self-flagellation and ask ourselves: Where else is a person accused of a crime better protected from the powerful state or the angry mob?
And where else in the world today is a victim -- of any race or creed -- more likely to see justice served in the end?
In the U.S., the presumption of innocence and judgment by a jury run the risk of letting the guilty go free. In other democratic and all autocratic systems, the habit of state control prefers to risk the jailing of the innocent.
All will occasionally err; because our tradition puts the individual first, we are right to err on the side of the individual accused. To subvert our Bill of Rights to burnish our image of fairness would indeed be scandalous.
William Safire is a columnist for the New York Times.