In the days after Rep. Maxine Waters told demonstrators in Minnesota that they should “get more confrontational” if Derek Chauvin was acquitted, Republicans have called for her censure or outright removal from Congress — claiming she was inciting violence.
Waters says her words are being twisted, and that she was calling for nonviolent protest and action.
We take no position on the intent of Waters’ words, but offer readers the full context and her actual words prior to the April 20 verdict in the case of Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer who was found guilty on all counts in the murder of George Floyd.
What Waters Said
The weekend before closing arguments in Chauvin’s trial, the California Democrat attended a demonstration on April 17 outside of the Brooklyn Center Police Department in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, where there have been nightly protests and some confrontations with police since a police officer shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop on April 11.
After talking to the crowd about seeking justice for Wright, Waters turned her attention to the Chauvin trial.
“This is a very difficult time in the history of this country,” Water said. “Despite the fact that we know that people of color have been killed too often, unarmed young men, in particular Black men, have been killed. We know that we are now coming to the end of the George Floyd trial, and that I suppose the closing arguments are going to be made on that case coming Monday. And we’re really just almost at the beginning of what is happening with our young man, Daunte Wright, who was killed, and that we have to persist in calling for justice.
“We have to let people know that we’re not going to be satisfied unless we get justice in these cases. And so I just could not sleep, I could not rest, I could not be satisfied without coming here to let the family know and the friends know and the people of this community know, and all those who have organized with justice know that I stand with you. And I am going to stand not only with you, but continue to fight in every way that I can for justice, for justice.”
Some then asked Waters what should happen in the Chauvin trial.
“We’re looking for a guilty verdict,” Waters said. “We’re looking for a guilty verdict and we’re looking to see if all of the talk that took place and has been taking place after they saw what happened to George Floyd. If nothing does not happen, then we know that we’ve got to not only stay in the street, but we’ve got to fight for justice. But I am very hopeful. And I hope that we’re going to get a verdict that says guilty, guilty, guilty. And if we don’t, we cannot go away.”
“And not just manslaughter, right?” a reporter asked.
“Oh, no, not manslaughter. No, no, no,” Waters said. “This is guilty for murder. I don’t know whether it’s in the first degree, but as far as I’m concerned it’s first degree murder.”
(Chauvin was not charged with first-degree murder. Rather, he was charged with second- and third-degree murder and second degree manslaughter in George Floyd’s death. On April 20, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all charges.)
A reporter then asked, if Chauvin isn’t convicted on all charges, “What should protesters do?”
“Well, we gotta stay on the street,” Waters said. “And we’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”
Someone then asked Waters what she thought about the curfew in place that night.
“Curfew means that I want you all to stop talking. I want you to stop meeting. I want you to stop gathering. I don’t agree with that,” Waters said.
But she added that she was not planning to stay out.
“I’m not going to stay out here,” Water said. “I came here from Washington just to be here to make sure that I let my voice be heard among all of those who have been putting so much time on the street. And so I’m hopeful that the protests will continue.”
Reaction to Waters’ Remarks
Two days later, Chauvin’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, asked for a mistrial based on Waters’ comments.
Waters, he said, “was making what I interpreted to be and what I think are reasonably interpreted to be, threats against the sanctity of the jury process, threatening and intimidating a jury, demanding that if there’s not a guilty verdict that there would be further problems.”
Given that the jury, to that point, had not been sequestered, Nelson argued there was a high probability that jurors had seen her comments and that it might prejudice their verdict.
Judge Peter Cahill denied the motion to dismiss the trial though he said, “I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned.”
Numerous Republicans also denounced Waters’ remarks and claimed they were a call to violence.
“This weekend in Minnesota, Maxine Waters broke the law by violating curfew and then incited violence,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy stated via Twitter on April 19.
McCarthy vowed that he would introduce a resolution to censure Waters “for these dangerous comments.” McCarthy’s resolution was tabled in 216-210 vote on April 20.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia filed a resolution seeking to expel Waters from Congress, “for inciting violence and engaging in rioting and protest against citizens and officers of the United States, including President Donald J. Trump.”
Responding to a question on Fox Business on April 19 about Waters’ comments, Rep. Madison Cawthorn castigated, “political leaders who are so divided to where they are literally encouraging people to go out and cause more violence, burn down more buildings.”
Cawthorn said he supported calls for Waters’ expulsion from the House, saying that the video showed “a Democratic congresswoman literally calling for violence.”
Sen. Ted Cruz tweeted a link to a video of Waters’ comments, and wrote, “Democrats actively encouraging riots & violence.”
Waters Responds to Critics
In an April 19 interview with The Grio, Waters said Republicans were purposely distorting her words.
“I am nonviolent,” she said. “Republicans will jump on any word, any line and try to make it fit their message and their cause for denouncing us and denying us, basically calling us violent … any time they see an opportunity to seize on a word, so they do it and they send a message to all of the white supremacists, the KKK, the Oath Keepers, the [Proud] Boys and all of that, how this is a time for [Republicans] to raise money on [Democrats] backs.”
Clarifying her “confrontational” comment, Waters told The Grio, “I talk about confronting the justice system, confronting the policing that’s going on, I’m talking about speaking up. I’m talking about legislation. I’m talking about elected officials doing what needs to be done to control their budgets and to pass legislation.”
“I am not worried that they’re going to continue to distort what I say,” she said. “This is who they are and this is how they act. And I’m not going to be bullied by them.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended Waters, saying her comments were “absolutely not” intended to incite violence.
“Maxine talked about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement,” Pelosi said.
In an April 20 news conference of House Democratic leaders, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries said he would not support what he called McCarthy’s “frivolous resolution” to censure Waters.
“I think that Chairwoman Waters has made clear, certainly the perspective of the House Democratic Caucus is clear,” Jeffries said. “We support peaceful protests consistent with the First Amendment, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the right to petition the government, peacefully.”
Waters is no stranger to controversial comments. In 2018, Waters criticized the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy on illegal immigration that led to separating families at the border, telling a crowd, “If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere!”
Waters later told MSNBC that she was not glorifying or encouraging violence against Republicans.
“As a matter of fact, if you look at the words that I use, the strongest thing I said is tell them they are not welcome, talk to them, tell them they are not welcome,” Waters said. “I didn’t say go and fight. I didn’t say anybody was going to have any violence.”
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