On February 5th, in commemoration of Trayvon Martin’s birthday, 2020 Democratic candidates Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren tweeted messages of support for Martin’s surviving family. The messages, however, also hinged on popular misconceptions about the controversial shooting, which the candidates gleefully continued to spread.
“Trayvon Martin would have been 25 today. How many 25th birthdays have been stolen from us by white supremacy, gun violence, prejudice, and fear?” Buttigieg wrote.
“My heart goes out to @SybrinaFulton and Trayvon’s family and friends,” tweeted Warren. “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.”
While neither of the candidates specifically mentioned George Zimmerman, the man who shot Martin in self-defense on that night in 2012, the allusion was obvious to anyone even slightly familiar with the case. Zimmerman, these candidates said without saying, shot Martin because he was black.
Now Zimmerman, who was cleared on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter, is suing the candidates for defamation. In the lawsuit, which demands $265 million from the presidential contenders, Zimmerman says he was “maliciously defamed” by Warren and Buttigieg and accuses them of using the occasion of Martin’s birthday “as a pretext to demagogue and falsely brand Zimmerman as a white supremacist and racist to their millions of Twitter followers.”
In announcing the suit, Zimmerman’s lawyer Larry Klayman said, “The obvious intent of Buttigieg and Warren’s Tweets is alleged race baiting, in an attempt to draw African American votes during this Democrat presidential primary season. Both defendants, Buttigieg and Warren, are alleged in the complaint to have acted with actual malice, as it is widely known that Zimmerman was acquitted of murder based on self-defense.”
Klayman and Zimmerman are also suing Martin’s family in legal action that was initiated in December. In that suit, Zimmerman alleges that prosecution witness Rachel Jeantel, who testified that she was on the phone with Martin just before the shooting, was actually a stand-in for Martin’s girlfriend, Brittany Diamond Eugene, who refused to testify on Martin’s behalf.
The merits of that latter lawsuit…we’ll leave to a court to decide.
As for this one, it’s going to be awfully difficult for Zimmerman to prove a defamation suit against two highly-public figures who did not even mention his name in their tweets. While we certainly agree that Warren and Buttigieg were pandering for black votes and pounding the Grand Drum of Race-Baiting with their messages, this doesn’t seem like a lawsuit headed for success.
Even so, we don’t blame Zimmerman for trying. There’s no excuse for Americans to still be confused about the facts of this case eight years later.