The family of George Floyd plans to file a $250 million lawsuit against Ye
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
The family of George Floyd is suing the rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, following comments he made about Floyd's death on a podcast. The $250 million lawsuit alleges the comments were defamatory and caused emotional distress. Joining us now is NPR's Matt Adams. So, Matt, let's start with what Ye said about George Floyd.
MATT ADAMS, BYLINE: Ye was a guest on an episode of "Drink Champs." It's a podcast hosted by legendary Queens rapper N.O.R.E., who, along with his co-host, Miami hip-hop pioneer DJ EFN, invite guests to join in an open conversation. The show's style was very much like friends hanging out at a bar, having a drink and sharing stories. Ye made many outlandish claims during the interview involving his ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, and then he continued to make antisemitic remarks, which he was recently suspended from Twitter and Instagram for doing, then made remarks about George Floyd's death. Ye questioned Floyd's cause of death, putting forth the idea that it wasn't Derek Chauvin who caused his death by kneeling on his neck for over eight minutes, but that he died from fentanyl use.
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YE: They hit him with the fentanyl. If you look, the guy's knee wasn't even on his neck like that.
MARTINEZ: All right. Well, tell us, then, about the response from George Floyd's family.
ADAMS: A lawsuit is now being filed by Roxie Washington, the mother of Gianna Floyd. She's George Floyd's only daughter and the sole beneficiary of the estate, so Washington is acting in her interest. Through a statement released by the family's lawyer, Washington plans to sue Ye, his business partners and associates for harassment, misappropriation, defamation and infliction of emotional distress, seeking $250 million in damages.
MARTINEZ: What if Ye wants to claim that his comments are protected under the First Amendment?
ADAMS: So I spoke with Roy Gutterman, the director of the Tully Center for Free Speech at the University of Syracuse, who said that Ye's First Amendment rights will be a factor in this case. He said there is no possibility of a defamation action here because there would be no living plaintiff whose reputation has been damaged. Libel and slander require a live plaintiff, and family members or surviving family members do not have standing to sue for defamation.
MARTINEZ: All right. Any other possible legal path that this case could take?
ADAMS: Right. So one possibility, according to Gutterman, would be the allegation of intentional infliction of emotional distress, although it will be difficult to claim. Basically, the plaintiff has to prove that the statements were intentional or reckless, outside the bounds of acceptance, decency, etc. This tort is often a difficult claim to collect on, especially with a person like Ye, who's so well known in the media. However, proving this claim is possible. Notably, Sandy Hook families just successfully sued Alex Jones on this basis in a recent civil trial in Connecticut.
MARTINEZ: Has the show, its hosts, Ye - one or all three - apologized?
ADAMS: "Drink Champs" did issue an apology for the airing of Ye's comments, and the episode has been pulled from YouTube and other listening platforms. A representative for the program told The Hollywood Reporter that the show tries to foster what it calls a free flow of ideas within the hip-hop community. But they said that Ye's interview contained false and hurtful information about Floyd's death, so they decided to pull the episode. Host N.O.R.E. later called into a radio show to talk about the episode and issued an apology. Ye himself, though, hasn't issued an apology, and his representatives haven't gotten back to me for comment.
MARTINEZ: All right. That's NPR's Matt Adams. Matt, thanks.
ADAMS: Thank you.
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