Law & the Courts

George Zimmerman Files Defamation Lawsuit Against Warren, Buttigieg

George Zimmerman listens to the judge during his first-appearance hearing in Sanford, Fla., November 19, 2013. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Reuters)

George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, alleging that they slandered him as a racist in order to “garner votes in the black community.”

The lawsuit, filed in the 10th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, accuses Warren and Buttigieg of defaming Zimmerman with “malice or at a minimum a reckless disregard for the truth” by suggesting he is a racist and white supremacist.

The two candidates issued separate statements on Twitter on February 5, which would have been Martin’s 25th birthday, expressing regret over his death and calling for an end to racism.

“My heart goes out to [Martin’s mother] and Trayvon’s family and friends. He should still be with us today,” Warren wrote. “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 tweeted, “Trayvon Martin would have been 25 today. How many 25th birthdays have been stolen from us by white supremacy, gun violence, prejudice, and fear?”

Zimmerman, at the time a coordinator for his neighborhood watch, shot and killed 17-year-old Martin on February 26, 2012 in Florida during a physical altercation. His initial release triggered national protests and backlash, and he was eventually charged with second degree murder and manslaughter. He was acquitted of both charges by a jury.

Zimmerman’s lawsuit also takes issue with both Warren and Buttigieg’s use of the term “gun violence,” saying the phrase refers more often to “reckless and indiscriminate use of illegally owned firearms” to kill innocent people, as well as Buttigieg’s implication that Zimmerman experienced “fear” arising from his prejudice.

“The only ‘fear’ Zimmerman experienced, as established in the 2013 trial and well-covered in the media, was in the context of Zimmerman believing he might go unconscious and die from the repeated beating of his head against the sidewalk pavement or by choking to death from the blood going down his throat due to his broken nose during the beating by Martin,” the lawsuit states.

Warren and Buttigieg have struggled to garner support in the black community. Both are polling at under 10 percent among African-Americans, well below their 2020 rivals.

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