Opinion by Joey Jackson, CNN Legal Analyst
Updated: Sat, 07 Dec 2019 23:56:28 GMT
Editor's Note: Joey Jackson is a legal analyst for CNN and HLN, and a partner at New York City-based Watford Jackson, PLLC. The views expressed here are solely his. Read more opinion on CNN.
George Zimmerman has filed a $100 million lawsuit in Florida state court. The 36-page lawsuit, which reads like a conspiracy novel, alleges that Zimmerman is "the victim" of malicious prosecution, abuse of process, civil conspiracy and defamation.
He names the parents of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the Martin's family attorney Ben Crump along with a number of other defendants. In a nutshell, Zimmerman's lawsuit claims that there was no legitimate basis for his prosecution. Instead, he asserts that prosecutors conspired against him to fabricate witness testimony and that a new book by Crump contained false claims about him.
Crump, along with Trayvon's parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, denied the allegations. "This plaintiff continues to display a callous disregard for everyone by himself, revictimizing individuals whose lives were shattered by his own misguided actions," Crump said in a statement issued on his and Travon's parents' behalf.
How astonishing that Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon on February 26, 2012, can now claim to be the victim. Martin's young life was taken by Zimmerman who incorrectly assumed that Martin was some sort of harmful vagrant. The truth, however, was that Martin was simply an innocent teen with a pack of Skittles in his pocket, who was having a visit with his dad. He represented no danger to the community at all.
Trayvon Martin's death was so tragic, so unnecessary, and so preventable. Zimmerman's lawsuit opens up these wounds all over again. It appears to matter little to Zimmerman that he killed a youngster and that Martin's parents are eternally suffering after the death of their son. Instead, Zimmerman is spinning a narrative about how the system conspired to "frame" him for murder.
How disgusting, distasteful and unfortunate that even nearly eight years later a young black life could mean so little to the person who took it away. Zimmerman's appalling litigation raises the specter of racial injustice in America: how much — and how little — has changed.
A persistent stereotype
In 2012, President Barack Obama said if he had a son, "he'd look like Trayvon." One could hardly imagine such a gesture of presidential empathy today. And yes, the sad reality is that Trayvon Martin could have been anyone's son. Zimmerman just saw him as a black male up to no good. And this stereotype persists today.
Trayvon Martin's only offense was being young, black and male, while wearing a hoodie. Think of the countless other black males fitting a similar description. Since Trayvon Martin's shooting death, there have been so many other questionable killings of unarmed black men all across the country. Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Laquan McDonald in Chicago. Eric Garner in Staten Island. Walter Scott in South Carolina. Philando Castile in Minnesota. And Botham Jean, who was shot in his own apartment in Texas. This unfortunate list seems endless.
It is devastating to consider both that Zimmerman's lawsuit could indicate his belief that he deserves sympathy, and that whatever progress America has made since Martin's killing may be unraveling. But we must discuss, we must consider. In doing so, we must address and resolve the bias involving the fear of black males. These killings represent the harshest reality, but there are daily interactions involving black men that even when not fatal, are demeaning and unnecessary.
Take for example the black men in Starbucks who were arrested while waiting to have a business meeting in 2017. Or the man who was accused of breaking and entering in New York, who was just moving into his own apartment. And let's not forget the man who got kicked out of his hotel in Oregon simply for speaking on the phone in the lobby. This list, too, is seemingly endless.
Against the backdrop of all that has occurred in this context since Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, I'm not surprised he'd file such a lawsuit. It's as if he's saying: "How dare prosecutors seek to hold me accountable for taking this young man's life — does it really matter?"
Given the current state of affairs, it makes you wonder how many others harbor such a callous attitude. Judging by the multiple, high-profile incidents of violence toward innocent black citizens since Trayvon Martin's death, the answer appears to be: far too many.
Lawsuit claims fall flat
Two issues stood out to me in reviewing Zimmerman's lawsuit: whether his claims have any legal merit, and — the broader question — where are we today as a society almost eight years after Martin's death?
With regard to the lawsuit being legally sustainable, it's not. The essence of a malicious prosecution claim is that prosecutors acted with ill will when pressing charges. Contrary to Zimmerman's apparent belief, he wasn't falsely picked out of a lineup and framed. He actually shot and killed Trayvon Martin. That was never in dispute. The only issue was whether the shooting was in self-defense.
Zimmerman was acquitted in 2013 of murder charges. As such, a jury concluded that he was legally justified in defending himself. But because a jury said Zimmerman's actions were not criminal does not mean that it was asserting that the shooting was right (we should never confuse the verdict with meaning anything other than what it said). But for Zimmerman to suggest that prosecuting him was some fabricated hoax is simply perplexing.
As to the alleged abuse of process claim, Zimmerman views his prosecution as being undertaken for the political purpose of "creating racial controversy." Here again, he is misguided. The basis for his prosecution was to hold him accountable. It's that simple. And it happens daily throughout the country to multiple defendants.
On the purported conspiracy, he contends that various parties engaged in a grand plan to fabricate evidence. While highly unlikely, let's assume Zimmerman is actually correct. If so, the way to resolve any such issue of deceit or fabrication of evidence is to sanction or prosecute those responsible.
Finally, as to his defamation claims, they too fall flat. Attorney Ben Crump was well within his rights to offer opinion and analysis about Zimmerman, the actions he took in killing Trayvon Martin, and any other reasonable view of the evidence he holds. And Harper Collins had the right to publish them.
Ultimately, the lawsuit will be an epic fail. None of the legal claims Zimmerman makes will ever be resolved through a trial. Instead, the case will be thrown out of court well in advance of any such proceeding. What will remain are the wounds that this lawsuit rips wide open once again.