The attorney for the family of George Floyd is considering a defamation lawsuit against Kanye West after the rapper made comments implying that Floyd, who was murdered by a Minneapolis policeman, died due to a fentanyl overdose.
West made the comments during the weekly “Drink Champs” podcast episode that was published Sunday after watching a movie called The Greatest Lie Ever Sold: George Floyd and the Rise of BLM.
“They hit him with the fentanyl,” West said of Floyd. “If you look, the guy’s knee wasn’t even on his neck like that.”
Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020 by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was recorded kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes, keeping Floyd pinned face-down on the street. Chauvin ignored Floyd’s repeated complaints that he couldn’t breathe, while bystanders, some of whom were recording on their cell phones, pleaded for Chauvin to stop. In April of 2021, a jury convicted Chauvin of murder, siding with expert witnesses for the prosecution that while drugs were found in Floyd’s system, the cause of his death was due to Chauvin’s position on his neck.
Now Lee Merritt, a lawyer for Floyd’s family, says his clients are considering suing.
While one cannot defame the dead, the family of #GeorgeFloyd is considering suit for Kanye’s false statements about the manner of his death.
Claiming Floyd died from fentanyl not the brutality established criminally and civilly undermines & diminishes the Floyd family’s fight.
— Lee Merritt (@MerrittForTexas) October 16, 2022
Conservative commentator Candace Owens and the right-wing Daily Wire website made The Greatest Lie Ever Sold, which was released last week. The Daily Wire describes it as a “BLM exposé” that “takes a deep-dive into the multi-million dollar ‘grift’ of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation and its former Executive Director Patrisse Cullors and offers ‘the true story’ behind the life and death of George Floyd with never-before-seen interviews from insiders and experts.”
The theory that Floyd died from a drug overdose, however, and not due to Chauvin kneeling on his neck for nearly 10 minutes, has persisted in right-wing conspiracy circles.
As Merritt acknowledges in his tweet, a defamation claim against West would be an uphill battle, first and foremost because, generally speaking, a person must be living in order to pursue a defamation claim.
If a Floyd family lawsuit is able to survive that hurdle, however, they will have to show that West’s comments meet four requirements — or elements — in order to win their case.
In order to successfully prove a defamation claim, a plaintiff must show: that a false statement, purporting to be fact, was made; that it was published or communicated to a third person; the statement was made with either negligence, if the person is a private figure, or with actual malice, if the plaintiff is a public figure; and that actual harm or damage to the person’s reputation was harmed.
Here, West’s statement that Floyd died due to a fentanyl overdose is provably false; a jury, tasked with making findings of fact, found expert testimony credible that drugs were not the cause of Floyd’s death. However, West might argue that he was expressing his opinion based on the movie he had just seen, and as of press time, Merritt had not responded to Law&Crime’s inquiry as to whether the Floyd family was considering action against the makers of that movie as well.
On the other hand, the second element of defamation would be easily satisfied, as West made his comments on a podcast that has been widely shared.
Since there is little doubt that at the time of his death, Floyd was in no way a public figure, a lawyer for Floyd’s family could argue that only negligence is required — meaning that West didn’t act with a reasonable standard of care in making his comments.
Regarding damages, Merritt hinted at a potential argument in his tweet, saying that West’s claim “undermines & diminishes the Floyd family’s fight.”
West’s comments about Floyd are the latest to spark significant controversy online.
“I’m a bit sleepy tonight but when I wake up I’m going death con 3 On [sic] JEWISH PEOPLE,” West tweeted in early October. “The funny thing is I actually can’t be Anti Semitic because black people are actually Jew also [sic]. You guys have toyed with me and tried to black ball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.”
Days before this tweet, West had some eyebrow-raising fashion choices and comments during an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson. It was later revealed that many of West’s more troubling statements about Jewish people were left on the cutting room floor.
In addition to the comment about Floyd, West also expressed anti-Jewish sentiment in the “Drink Champs” podcast.
“Paparazzi taking a photo of you, you ain’t getting no money off of it,” West said. “You’re used to getting screwed by the Jewish media.”
West also made antisemitic comments while contemplating whether he would run for president in 2024.
“The only possible way that I’m gonna win is, early on, call out the Jewish media, because they’ll play nice with you,” he said.
Ben Shapiro, a co-founder of the Daily Wire and a practicing Orthodox Jew, has praised West on Twitter for trending towards social conservative causes.
“As usual, two things can be true at once: Kanye’s moves toward pro-life, faith, and family conservatism are encouraging; his ‘death con 3’ posts and Black Hebrew Israelite language are clearly anti-Semitic and disturbing,” Shapiro posted on Oct. 12.
[Image by Jason Davis/Getty Images for DailyWire+]
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