In the United States, you’re free to say whatever you want to say. However, much like anything else, you’re responsible for the ramifications of that speech. If you disparage someone with false statements, you may well find yourself in court over them.
That’s precisely where a couple of presidential candidates are likely to find themselves, especially since neither has much hope of ending up in the Oval Office instead.
George Zimmerman, the man who was charged in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Florida, is suing Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg for $265 million, claiming the candidates defamed him to “garner votes for the black community.”
The lawsuit, which was filed in Polk County, argues that Warren and Buttigieg’s tweets used the killing as a “pretext to demagogue and falsely brand Zimmerman as a white supremacist and racist to their millions of Twitter followers.”
The candidates tweeted in memory of Martin on what would have been his 25th birthday.
According to Fox News, the lawsuit reads: “It is high time that the cheap and harmful use of the race card by politicians of all stripes be made to cease and desist. Their despicable ‘race tactics’ are not only causing great harm to persons such as my client George Zimmerman, but also are damaging relations between black and white Americans who are all brothers.
Here are the tweets in question:
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
Let’s be very clear here, both Buttigieg and Warren are off their freaking rockers. Trayvon Martin didn’t die because of “gun violence” or white supremacy. He died because he tried to cave someone’s head in with a concrete sidewalk and that someone happened to be armed. Had he not been shot, Trayvon would likely be in prison for murder.
This was not some random kid lynched for the crime of walking while black. Let’s not pretend he was, either.
Zimmerman has a right to be upset by the characterizations, especially since so few people actually know the true story of what happened that fateful day.
Does that mean the lawsuits will go anywhere? It’s doubtful. Defamation law is odd here in the United States, in part because lawmakers were trying to balance the needs of victims with freedom of speech. No one should face a lawsuit simply for speaking their mind, but no one should be able to damage another man’s character simply because it’s convenient, either.
One problem is that George Zimmerman is arguably a public figure at this point. Let’s face it, we all know who he is. While many wish he’d just slink back into obscurity, that’s kind of impossible at this point. As a public figure, though, the bar for defamation is much, much higher.
Further, there are other factors that have to be considered for Zimmerman’s lawsuit to have a shot. I’m not an attorney, but my recollection is that you need a willful disregard for the truth. While that looks to be the case, I suspect there are enough stories painting Zimmerman as all of these things that I suspect that’s going to be hard to prove.
I’m also not sure there will be any additional damages to Zimmerman’s reputation from this. After all, the news media did a good enough job destroying his reputation the first time around.
As such, I don’t know that this will go anywhere. I pray that it does, though.
After all, I’m sick of these people pretending that a thug who got precisely what he deserved based on his actions in that precise instance is somehow a martyr worthy of memory.
Trayvon Martin is no martyr. He’s a cautionary tale.
If the lawsuit does anything, I hope it helps more people come to understand that truth.