Minnesota – and the rest of the country – is on a knife’s edge waiting for a verdict in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged in the death of George Floyd.
It’s a fraught moment – coming after four years of a president who weaponized race (and racists) for his political benefit and the mounting evidence of how race unduly influences policing. It’s in these situations when the country’s leaders need to, well, lead. Our elected officials – from President Joe Biden on down – need to urge calm and restraint while reminding people of our common humanity.
Which is the opposite of what California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters did over the weekend in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, at a Black Lives Matter rally to protest the killing of Daunte Wright. (Wright was killed when a police officer apparently grabbed her gun rather than her Taser to restrain him.)
“I hope we get a verdict that says guilty, guilty, guilty,” she said in response to reporters’ questions. “And if we don’t, we cannot go away. We’ve got to stay on the street. We get more active, we’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”
There’s not much dot-connecting necessary here. Waters said that if Chauvin is not found guilty – closing arguments in the case began Monday – then “we’ve got to get more confrontational.” And she said it in a city that has seen protests and arrests in its streets for the last week.
That sort of rhetoric – at a moment of such heightened tensions – is irresponsible coming from anyone. It’s especially irresponsible coming from an elected official like Waters.
The judge in the case admonished Waters on Monday for her comments.
“I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function,” said Judge Peter Cahill. He told the defense that Waters’ comments may be grounds for the case to be overturned on appeal.
Defending herself to theGrio in an interview, Waters said, “I am nonviolent. 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.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time she’s done something like this. At a rally in June 2018, which came shortly after then White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had been kicked out of a restaurant, Waters said this to crowd at a rally:
“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.”
In both instances – the one in 2018 and this latest one – Republicans demanded that House Democrats punish Waters for what they took to be dangerous incitement.
“Maxine Waters is inciting violence in Minneapolis — just as she has incited it in the past,” tweeted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican. “If Speaker Pelosi doesn’t act against this dangerous rhetoric, I will bring action this week.”
McCarthy made it official late Monday, saying in a statement that he is introducing a censure resolution against Waters.
Yes, it is more than a little rich for Republicans to express outrage about incitement given that former President Donald Trump quite clearly incited the crowd at the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally – which led directly to the violent insurrection at the US Capitol. And because almost 150 House Republicans voted to oppose the Electoral College results after that riot. And many of whom – Mo Brooks, Jim Jordan, etc. – continue to insist, contra all available evidence, that Trump was cheated out of the election. And several of whom circulated a flier last week promoting the creation of the “America First” caucus that promised, among other things to foster “common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions.” (The caucus has apparently been scrapped.)
Yes, it’s beyond ridiculous for Republicans to display selective outrage about Waters when they spent the last four years not just ignoring but enabling Trump’s conduct – much of which was aimed at dividing the country along on racial, ethnic and gender lines.
But simply because that is undeniably true doesn’t mean that Democrats – especially Democratic elected officials like Waters – should have carte blanche to say and do whatever they want. For all of the people making the “what about Republicans!!!” argument, remember this: You can only claim the moral high ground if you don’t get down in the dirt yourself.
Republicans are wrong for aiding and abetting Trump. Period. Waters is wrong for encouraging confrontation and violence in a situation that requires the exact opposite of our leaders. Period.
That’s not to say the two actions are equal. Lying about an election and then failing to take responsibility for a violent insurrection that left five people dead is far more grave than what Waters is doing. But it still doesn’t make what she is doing right – or responsible.
This story has been updated with further developments.