Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California joined demonstrators in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, over the weekend to lend support to the protest over yet another police shooting that killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. After addressing the crowd via loudspeaker Saturday evening, Waters spoke for several minutes with reporters on the scene, where she was asked what the response should be if the jury in the Derek Chauvin murder trial returned a not guilty verdict for the death of George Floyd. “Well, we’ve got to stay on the street. And we’ve got to get more active,” Waters responded. “We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.” Waters was then asked about a curfew that had been imposed over the weekend. “Curfew means that ‘I want you all to stop talking. I want you to stop leading. I want you to stop gathering,’ ” Waters answered. “I don’t agree with that.”
The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial Sunday night, characterized the comments as Waters having “tried to rile up the crowd to protest an acquittal.” The comments, to be clear, were made as an aside, spoken through a mask, in response to a reporter’s question following Waters’ address to the protesters and well after the focus of the demonstration had moved on. Protesters chanted and banged drums in the background. She’s having trouble hearing the questions as they’re asked. (You can see footage her comments here at around the 2:19:30 mark.)
In the response to the question before, Waters remarked that the Floyd verdict was a chance to see if anything had changed in America over the past year. “If nothing happens, then we know we’ve got not only to stay in the streets, we’ve got to fight for justice,” Waters said, adding that she was hopeful. In the next response, Waters essentially rephrases her answer in response to a similar question, but includes the “confrontational” remark. The Wall Street Journal read the totality of the interaction and remarks this way: “That also sounds like an attempt to influence the jury by suggesting that an acquittal would result in more street protests and perhaps violence.” Does it though?
Waters, on Sunday, clarified her comments, saying that she didn’t mean engaging in violence. “I am nonviolent,” she said. “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.” But conservative media—and Chris Cillizza—had already lost its collective mind. Outrage! Censure! We can’t carry guns in the Capitol and Maxine Waters gets to say “confrontational” on TV? Enough is enough.
“It’s harder 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’ll be big trouble in the streets,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday. Republicans are out here credulously parsing the meaning and use of the word confrontational as if the past four years didn’t exist.
To understand more about how police training perpetuates a culture of fear and, sometimes, violence, listen to this recent episode of What Next.