Bill Maher and activist professor Cornel West squared off with their conservative panelmates on Friday on Real Time regarding the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman in Florida.
Of the four, Maher and West believed Zimmerman should be found guilty. West also praised the closing argument by Assistant District Attorney John Guy.
“He put it well,” West said. “‘Stand Your Ground’ is a law that Florida’s responsible for that allows citizens to carry weapons. But if [Zimmerman] had stayed in his car, brother Trayvon would still be alive.”
“But it’s a matter of law,” conservative columnist Matt Lewis countered.
“Zimmerman said he wasn’t even aware of that law,” Maher interjected, to which West responded, “He’s lying.”
“We know he’s lying,” Maher agreed.
“Here’s what I think happened,” Lewis said. “I think you got overzealous Neighborhood Watch guy who thinks he’s a cop, and I think he started hassling Trayvon.”
“Overzealous, overambitious,” Maher repeated at Lewis sarcastically.
“I think Trayvon had a chip on his shoulder and started pushing back,” Lewis said to complete his thought.
“I think, at the deep human level, you have to begin with the tears of the parents of brother Trayvon,” West interjected. “What are those tears about? They’re about their young precious son being criminalized, which is to say, a form of soul murder before he’s physically murdered.”
Lewis also described the confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman as “the wanna-be gangster versus the wanna-be cop,” arguing that the trajectory of Zimmerman’s bullet indicated that Martin was on top of him at the time of the February 2012 shooting.
“Trayvon was responding to being stalked,” West said in response to Lewis’ allegation. “When you’re stalked in that way, you’re gonna respond in a certain way. Getting out of a car with a loaded gun?”
“I think [Zimmerman] was a little too ambitious with his being Neighborhood Watch,” Lewis told West after some crosstalk. “I would’ve been home watching TV, probably.”
Maher cited a 2012 Daily Beast article pointing out that the gated community in which Zimmerman confronted Martin had been the target of eight burglaries beforehand.
“That is why George Zimmerman started his neighborhood watch,” Maher said. “That is why he was profiling Trayvon Martin, ’cause most of those burglaries probably were committed by young black people. That’s the truth. But, if we’re gonna have a conversation about race, shouldn’t it start with the question, ‘Why, in this country, do young black people still have no better prospects than committing petty theft?'”
“Not only that, but let’s be honest about it,” West said in agreement. “From the vantage point — of precious poor black brothers, especially — the criminal justice system itself is criminal to a degree to which they know Wall Street exectives can commit all kinds of crimes — market manipulating, insider trading, [and] not one even investigated.”
By comparison, West argued, black men were routinely targeted for arrests involving marijuana.
“I am with you on this,” Lewis said.
The other conservative on the panel, political consultant Liz Mair insisted on taking a third position, despite Maher’s objections.
“I gotta say, I’m a little bit sick of all this celebrity media circus thing that we do with criminal justice in this country,” she told Maher. “At the end of the day, we have a situation here where a kid died, another dude — depending on how this goes — could be going to jail for a number of years. The whole thing is a tragedy. None of it should have happened.”
“You make it sound like it’s a wash,” Maher answered mockingly before making a hand-washing motion toward her. “‘Something happened down there.'”
“That’s not what I’m saying at all,” Mair responded.
Watch the debate, posted by YouTube user “Buzz Sourse” [sic] on Friday, below.