George Zimmerman filed a lawsuit in Florida on Tuesday (Feb. 18) against Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren for defamation due to tweets they sent out on Trayvon Martin’s birthday (Feb. 5). He is alleging that the Democratic presidential candidates were “maliciously publishing false and misleading” information about the case in order to “garner votes in the black community.” He is seeking $265 million “for loss of good will and reputation.”
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While Zimmerman was not explicitly mentioned in the tweets, both Buttigieg and Warren framed Martin’s murder as a result of white supremacy and gun violence. These qualifiers obviously go against Zimmerman’s contention that he acted in self-defense when shooting the unarmed 17-year-old in 2012. “Defendant Warren’s use of the word ‘racism’ as having caused the death of Trayvon Martin is a smear that disparages and defames Zimmerman, a man who is Hispanic, a minority advocate, and an Obama supporter,” the lawsuit states. “…Defendant Warren knows that as established in the 2013 trial and in the media, that Zimmerman fired a single shot only because he believed he might go unconscious and die.”
Warren’s tweet reads: “My heart goes out to [Martin’s mother] @SybrinaFulton and Trayvon’s family and friends. He should still be with us today. We need to end gun violence and racism. And we need to build a world where all of our children-especially young Black boys-can grow up safe and free.” Buttigieg’s tweet reads: “Trayvon Martin would have been 25 today. How many 25th birthdays have been stolen from us by white supremacy, gun violence, prejudice, and fear?”
According to CBSN legal contributor Keir Dougall, Zimmerman will have a tough time winning his case against the presidential candidates since their tweets will likely fall into the category of political speech. “The First Amendment would be at its strongest in protecting this particular type of speech,” Dougall said.
Since Zimmerman was ultimately acquitted, he believes he has grounds to sue whoever continues to refer to the murder of Trayvon Martin as an act of racism. Back in December, he also filed a lawsuit against Martin’s family, their prosecutors, a publishing company and law enforcement officials for promoting what he claims to be a false narrative. Ben Crump, a defendant in that lawsuit commented at the time, “The plaintiff continues to display a callous disregard for everyone but himself, revictimizing individuals whose lives were shattered by his own misguided actions. He would have us believe that he is the innocent victim of a deep conspiracy, despite the complete lack of any credible evidence to support his outlandish claims.”