Well, here’s a name that doesn’t pop up in the news all that often these days. The last time we heard from George Zimmerman (of Trayvon Martin shooting fame), he was suing Martin’s family for 100 million dollars. But his attorneys must have some extra time on their hands because two more lawsuits were just announced. And they’re being brought against Democratic primary hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.
If that sounds rather strange to you it’s probably because, well… it is kind of strange. Zimmerman is claiming defamation and the source of his accusation is, of course, something from Twitter. (Because it’s 2020 and everything begins, ends and swirls around the drain of social media.) Here are some of the details from CBS Miami.
Acquitted in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012, George Zimmerman is seeking $265 million in a defamation lawsuit against two Democratic presidential candidates.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Polk County, names US Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor of South Bend Pete Buttigieg as defendants.
The suit claims both candidates defamed Zimmerman on Twitter. It happened on February 5, on what would have been Martin’s 25th birthday.
Zimmerman’s suit claims that both candidates “maligned him for political gain in misguided and malicious attempts to bolster their standings amongst African-American voters.” That might be rather tough to prove, considering that neither of them actually mentioned Zimmerman by name. Let’s take a look at those tweets.
My heart goes out to @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. https://t.co/9lXXlRnvzL
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) February 6, 2020
Trayvon Martin would have been 25 today.
How many 25th birthdays have been stolen from us by white supremacy, gun violence, prejudice, and fear?#BlackLivesMatter
— Pete Buttigieg (@PeteButtigieg) February 5, 2020
Were the two candidates pandering in an attempt to “bolster their standings amongst African-American voters” as Zimmerman’s suit claims? Of course they were. Buttigieg and Warren are currently drawing about as much minority support in the primary as they would if they started showing up for rallies wearing hats with swastikas on them. And they’re hardly the only ones.
But do those tweets rise to the level of defamation as it’s understood by legal scholars? That’s a tough row to hoe. As we’ve discussed here when considering previous defamation suits, the plaintiff needs to prove several elements of the crime in order to convince the courts of this charge. Zimmerman would need to show that the accused politicians said something that is provably false and defamatory about him and made that statement to third parties when they knew (or at least should have known) that the statement was false. He would also have to show that the statement(s) resulted in some form of damages.
Right out of the gate, both Warren’s and Buttigieg’s tweets not only fail to mention George Zimmerman by name, but they are rather generic in nature. All Warren says is that Trayvon Martin “should still be with us today.” She then goes on to make generic gun violence and racism complaints. Buttigieg’s tweet is similarly vanilla in nature, marking Martin’s birthday and then asking how many other people never made it to their 25th birthday because they fell to gun violence and/or racism.
Sure, it’s easy to draw an implication from those statements that they believe Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin because he was driven by racial animus. And the one thing that Zimmerman has going for him is the fact that he was acquitted in the case. Since he was technically not guilty, then the statements could be argued to be false and (at least potentially) defamatory. But the belief that the court got it wrong is hardly unique to those two candidates. It’s almost gospel among liberals.
And what damages could Zimmerman show even if the court accepted that the tweets were directed at him and the speakers knew the statements were false? If there are some career opportunities awaiting Zimmerman that he fears he may lose out on now, it’s unlikely in the extreme that his potential benefactor is unaware of the Trayvon Martin shooting. I mean, aside from his immediate circle of family and friends, that’s the only reason anyone has ever heard of him.
I’m not going to relitigate the shooting here yet again since we’ve been through it too many times already. Suffice to say that Trayvon Martin’s family had their day in court and they lost. George Zimmerman’s story was the one held to be true and he cleared his name. And those of us who were not there in that courtyard on that fateful day have nothing more solid than opinions to offer. But this defamation suit seems ill-considered if you ask me. He could run up some hefty legal fees attempting to prosecute it and come away with nothing to show for his efforts. Defamation is tough to prove under the best of circumstances and these claims seem particularly weak from a legal standpoint.