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Rep. Maxine Waters' police protest remarks cause a firestorm

LA Times logo LA Times 4/19/2021 Jennifer Haberkorn
a close up of a person talking on a cell phone: Rep. Maxine Waters speaks on Oct. 2. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press) © Provided by The LA Times Rep. Maxine Waters speaks on Oct. 2. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

House Republicans are rallying around efforts to try to reprimand Los Angeles Rep. Maxine Waters for comments she made over the weekend encouraging protestors awaiting a verdict in the trial of former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin.

If Chauvin, who is standing trial for the death of George Floyd, is not found guilty, “then we know that we’ve got to not only stay in the street, but we’ve got to fight for justice,” Waters, a Democrat, said at a demonstration in Brooklyn Center, Minn., according to video. “We’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational. You’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”

Republicans say Waters is encouraging violence and threatened to take action against her in the House.

“Maxine Waters is inciting violence in Minneapolis — just as she has incited it in the past,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) tweeted. “If Speaker Pelosi doesn’t act against this dangerous rhetoric, I will bring action this week.” He later tweeted that he planned to bring a censure resolution against Waters.

McCarthy’s office declined to elaborate on the tweets.

Waters' comments could have repercussions for Chauvin's legal case too.

On Monday, Judge Peter A. Cahill blasted Waters and other elected officials who have spoken publicly about the case, saying in the courtroom — but not in front of the jury — that Waters' comments may be grounds for appeal.

“I give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned," he said to defense attorney Eric Nelson, who asked for a mistrial over Waters' comments and the public nature of the case.

“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," Cahill said. Their failure to do so is “abhorrent but I don’t think it has... prejudiced this jury.”

"A congresswoman’s opinion really doesn’t matter a whole lot," he added, denying the mistrial request.

Waters made the comments over the weekend during protests in Brooklyn Center, near Minneapolis, over the April 11 fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright. The protests added to the fear that the city is a tinderbox ahead of an expected verdict in Chauvin's trial.

Waters' office did not respond to a request for an interview. She told theGrio website in comments published Monday that Republicans are twisting her comments for political gain and that she would not be "bullied."

"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 … anytime 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."

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who was stripped of her committee assignments over social media posts before she took office, including an endorsement of killing Democrats, said she would introduce a resolution to expel her from the House.

Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) said Democrats' refusal to punish Waters is hypocritical.

"If this was said by a Republican, you know ... that the majority in this chamber would move to strip that representative of their committees and possibly move to expel them from Congress," she said on the House floor without naming Waters.

McClain as well as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) linked Waters' remarks to the attempted shooting of two National Guard members in Minneapolis. Neither were seriously injured.

"It is hard to imagine anything more inappropriate than a member of Congress flying in from California to inform local leaders not so subtly that this defendant better be found guilty or else there will be big trouble in the streets," McConnell said.

There is no sign Democrats would allow any effort to reprimand Waters to succeed. She is one of the most prominent voices of progressives in the House, affectionately known as “Auntie Maxine” among her supporters.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said Waters does not need to apologize and does not incite violence.

"Maxine talked about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement," Pelosi said. "I myself think we should take our lead from the George Floyd family. They've handled this with great dignity, and no ambiguity."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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