George Zimmerman, the Florida neighbourhood watchman famously acquitted after killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, has filed a lawsuit against Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg over tweets the presidential candidates posted to commemorate Martin's birthday.
The lawsuit cited separate tweets both candidates posted on 5 February, Martin's birthday, in which they call out issues of gun violence and prejudice in the US.
“Trayvon Martin would have been 25 today,” Mr Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, wrote in his tweet. “How many 25th birthdays have been stolen from us by white supremacy, gun violence, prejudice, and fear?#BlackLivesMatter.”
Ms Warren said her “heart goes out” to Martin's family and friends, writing: “He should still be with us today.”
The senator added: “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.”
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
Though neither of their tweets so much as named Zimmerman, the 36-year-old claimed in his lawsuit that Mr Buttigieg and Ms Warren were committing “defamation with actual malice or at a minimum a reckless disregard for the truth”.
The lawsuit is seeking damages of $265 million for loss of good will and reputation and financial and other damages, while alleging the Democratic candidates wrongly connected the shooting victim’s death to gun violence.
Zimmerman, who has long claimed self-defence after killing the unarmed black teenager, said Mr Buttigieg and Ms Warren posted the tweets as part of a “political agenda to garner votes in the black community”.
The case against Zimmerman sparked national outrage and helped lead to the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement after he was found not guilty of second-degree murder in July 2012.
His lawsuit against the presidential candidates also said they falsely suggest he acted out of “fear”, whereas “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.”
Larry Klayman, an attorney for Zimmerman, reportedly slammed the Democratic politicians in a statement after filing the lawsuit in Florida.
“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," he said. "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.”
The lawyer added: “The nation should applaud Mr Zimmerman for taking a strong stand and pushing back against hack politicians like Buttigieg and Warren, who know no bounds of decency and frankly could obviously care less about whom they hurt in their quest to dishonesty use and manipulate black voters to win the 2020 Democrat presidential primary."