Column: Maxine Waters was never an issue in the Chauvin trial — even though the GOP tried to make her one
Maxine Waters, the long-serving Democratic House representative from Los Angeles, was recently described by an MSNBC host as “the congresswoman who never holds anything back.”
That was just after she gave voice to a sentiment that many of us on the blue side of the room have felt every time that Jim Jordan, the obstreperous Republican congressman from Ohio, speaks: “You need to respect the chair and shut your mouth,” Waters told Jordan as he badgered infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci during a committee hearing last week.
For the record:
4:50 PM, Apr. 20, 2021An earlier version of this story said that Marjorie Taylor Greene was from Florida. She is from Georgia.
Let me just say this up front: I’m a fan of Waters, 82, who has reached a point after three decades in Congress where she simply doesn’t care what her critics think of her.
Assuming she ever did.
Over the weekend, Waters was in Minnesota to attend a protest against the police violence that had just claimed the life of yet another unarmed Black man, 20-year-old Daunte Wright. And she riled her critics once again.
“We’ve got to stay on the street and we’ve got to get more active, we’ve got to get more confrontational,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”
The jury in the trial of Derek Chauvin convicted the former Minneapolis police officer of murder in the death of George Floyd.
Was she implying there would be violence in the event that a Minnesota jury failed to convict former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd? Was her remark the equivalent or worse of former President Trump urging his supporters to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell”?
That’s what her antagonists decided.
“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,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy introduced a motion to censure Waters, which was promptly voted down along party lines, 216-210.
Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who just abandoned plans for a white supremacist caucus in Congress, vowed to introduce a resolution to expel Waters from the House. (As my colleague Jennifer Haberkorn noted, Greene, a far-right conspiracy theorist, was stripped of committee assignments for social media posts made before she took office, “including an endorsement of killing Democrats.”)
Chauvin’s defense attorney moved for a mistrial based on Waters’ remarks. The judge denied the motion, but not before calling out Waters by name, describing her statement as “abhorrent” and saying it might provide the defense with grounds for appeal, which legal experts dismissed as unlikely. (“I don’t think it has any legs,” said CNN legal analyst Laura Coates.)
But leave it to Tucker Carlson of Fox News to respond with calculated hysteria and his own incitement to violence: “Maxine Waters showed up to demand more violence,” said Carlson. “Do what we say or we will kill you.”
As usual, Waters wasn’t having it.
“I talk about confronting the justice system, confronting the policing that’s going on,” she said Monday. “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.”
Getting into a comparison of how Republicans ignored the many provocations to violence that spewed from former President Trump’s mouth over his four years in office is probably futile.
Let’s just say the attacks on Waters are mostly political, and stink of racial bias. She embodies the rage that so many of us feel, and she is not afraid to express it. And her constituents clearly support her outspokenness. She routinely gets more than 70% of the vote in the 43rd district, which is half Latino, 19% Black, 15% white and 13% Asian American and Pacific Islander.
In 2018, she called on Americans to confront the Trump administration officials who carried out and defended his inhumane policy of separating families at the border, and vocally supported booing them out of restaurants. “If we can’t protect the children,” she said then, “we can’t protect anyone.”
She was accused in many quarters of incivility, but as Seth Rogen tweeted at the time, “I’m confused that some people think civility is comparable to humanity.”
Hours before the verdict came down, even President Biden expressed an opinion about the Chauvin murder trial, after phoning the family of George Floyd to offer support: “I am praying the verdict is the right verdict, which is, I think it’s overwhelming in my view.” (He added: “I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now and not hear me say that.”)
Should he have weighed in? Maybe not, but he expressed what so many Americans have been feeling — that Chauvin murdered Floyd in an unspeakable manner, by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. And, thank God, the jury agreed, finding Chauvin guilty on two counts of murder and one count of manslaughter.
Trying to put the focus on Maxine Waters was a classic feat of Republican misdirection, a convenient distraction from one of the most profound and depressing issues confronting this country: the never-ending brutalization of Black people by law enforcement.
And yet, many Americans do not see a connection between systemic racism and these killings. Last June, the Public Religion Research Institute polled Americans on their perceptions of police killings of Black Americans. Seventy-eight percent of Republicans, and 72% of white evangelical Protestants, saw them as isolated events, rather than part of a pattern. Only 17% of Democrats saw them as isolated events.
“The denial that systemic racism exists is one of the absolute glues that holds together the modern Republican coalition,” CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein told Anderson Cooper on Monday night.
That — and not anything Maxine Waters has said — is what we need to be worked up about.
For families who have lost loved ones to police violence, the killing of George Floyd tears at old wounds and compels them to speak of those they’ve lost.
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