It may be part of American judicial lore that the system grinds slowly, but exceedingly well. And the Marion Barry case may go down in history among the most notable exhibits.

For the genius of this system is that it evades popular logic, the transient impulse, the hysterical, even vindictive motive.

Despite sharp divisions over the verdict among the mayor's supporters and detractors, I believe the jury of Marion Barry's peers reacted to the evidence and to its charge with great responsibility.

I also believe the jury's opinion probably was a fair representation of the will of many people in this community, who did not want to see the mayor behind bars, especially when they believed the government had overreached in its zeal to put him there.

Barry also may have been helped by his image as a fighter for black people and his consistency in that cause over the past 30 years. Part of his problem with the so-called white establishment was that he stepped into that world of leadership but still followed a pattern of making certain that blacks had opportunities. Beyond appointing blacks to positions of power, he often insisted that white developers include minority contractors if they wanted to do business with the city.

Even in his preference for women Barry remained loyal to his race, a factor that unwittingly may have helped him with the largely black female jury.

Given Barry's less than admirable attitude toward women in general, this may be difficult for some to grasp. But its origins lie in the bonds of sisterhood of black women and the feelings of protection that many black women have for black men, given the special problems so many black men experience in this society. When one of their men goes to a white woman, that, for some, is the ultimate betrayal.

In the parlance of the street, Barry wasn't shown to have been guilty of the inconsistency of "talking black and sleeping white."

It was the same consistency that Barry showed when he came on the scene as a civil rights activist in the South 30 years ago and in his struggle for black equality in Washington. Whatever else he did or did not do in this case, he still identified, in the eyes of the jurors, with the black community.

This unchanging aspect of his character also may have caused the jurors to make certain allowances, if you will. The message of their verdict may have been that because of his days in jail 30 years ago, which were undeserved, he should not have to serve time today for what amounted to human frailties.

So, like it or not, Barry is probably back. For these same consistencies that freed Barry from the jaws of a jell cell will stand him in good stead should he choose -- as he well may -- to return to City Hall or some other official capacity in the coming election.

Indeed, we have to come to terms with the fact that Barry, however else one might wish it otherwise, however much he makes all of us ache, is a special human being, representing contradiction, paradox and challenge with which black people in particular in this city are going to have to come to terms.