George Floyd death: Congresswoman denies inciting violence

·4 min read
Maxine Waters
Representative Maxine Waters rejected the furore over her remarks, insisting she was "non-violent"

A US congresswoman is under fire after urging demonstrators to "get more confrontational" if a not-guilty verdict comes in the George Floyd case.

At a protest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Maxine Waters told protesters to "stay on the streets" if ex-officer Derek Chauvin is acquitted in the case.

The trial judge said the Democrat's comments were "abhorrent".

Republicans called for a congressional censure of Ms Waters, but Democrats said she had no reason to apologise.

What did Maxine Waters say?

Ms Waters spoke on Saturday in a Minneapolis suburb not far from where Mr Chauvin, who is white, is on trial accused of the murder and manslaughter of Mr Floyd, a black man, in the city on 25 May last year.

If there is a not-guilty verdict in Mr Chauvin's trial, Ms Waters said, "then we know that we got to not only stay in the street, but we have got to fight for justice".

She also said: "We've got to get more confrontational. We've got to make sure that they know that we mean business."

Of the curfew, Ms Waters said: "I don't think anything about curfew. Curfew means 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."

On Monday, she rejected the furore, insisting she was "non-violent" and arguing Republicans were merely seizing on her remarks to "send a message to all of the white supremacists, the KKK".

How did the judge react?

After the jury was sent out on Monday, Judge Peter Cahill rejected an argument from Mr Chauvin's defence lawyer that Ms Waters' comments may have influenced the jury.

Judge Cahill said: "I give you that congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this trial being overturned."

Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill
Hennepin County District Judge Peter Cahill rejected a request by the defence to declare the trial invalid

The judge said he wished "elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law". "Their failure to do so is abhorrent," he added.

However, Judge Cahill dismissed Mr Nelson's motion for a mistrial, saying Ms Waters' "opinion really doesn't matter a whole lot".

How did Republicans react?

On Monday, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Democratic-controlled Senate, blasted Ms Waters, saying: "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."

Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the US House of Representatives, tweeted that Ms Waters had "incited violence". He pledged to introduce a congressional resolution of censure, though such a move would be largely symbolic as Democrats run the lower house of Congress, too.

Steve Scalise, a Republican lawmaker who was shot in 2017 by a left-wing gunman, demanded Democrats and the media condemn Ms Waters' remarks.

He tweeted: "I was shot because of this kind of dangerous rhetoric."

How did Democrats react?

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader of the US House of Representatives, defended Ms Waters, insisting on Monday she had no reason to apologise.

"Maxine talked about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement," Mrs Pelosi said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer downplayed Ms Waters' remarks, saying on Monday: "I don't think she meant violence."

He said she was "passionate" and has "never advocated violence".

The White House distanced itself from Ms Waters' comments on Monday.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said when asked about the remarks that President Joe Biden believes "protests must be peaceful".

Critics noted that Republicans had failed to convict former President Donald Trump of inciting insurrection over the 6 January Capitol riots during his impeachment trial.

Who is Maxine Waters?

The chair of the House Financial Services Committee was first elected in 1991 to represent south Los Angeles, and is now in her 15th term in Congress.

This is not the first time she has been accused of dangerous rhetoric. At a 2017 charity event in New York City she told a crowd: "I will go and take Trump out tonight."

A year later she urged a crowd, if they ever saw a Trump official in public, to "get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they're not welcome".

A year after she was first elected to Congress, her district was rocked by rioting after some white police officers who were filmed beating a black motorist, Rodney King, were acquitted.

Ms Waters denied the violent protests, which left more than 60 people dead, more than 2,000 injured and hundreds of millions of dollars in property destroyed, should be defined as a riot.

"If you call it a riot," the Los Angeles Times quoted her as saying, "it sounds like it was just a bunch of crazy people who went out and did bad things for no reason. I maintain it was somewhat understandable, if not acceptable. So I call it a rebellion."