Democratic congresswoman Maxine Waters’ comments that protesters should “get more confrontational” if Derek Chauvin is acquitted has drawn the ire of the judge overseeing the trial as well as Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators.
“Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” Judge Peter Cahill said on Monday, after sending jurors to begin deliberations in the case against Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who is charged with murdering George Floyd.
Jurors continued their deliberations on Tuesday, and the country is braced for a verdict as soon as this week. The jury must decide whether Chauvin used excessive force when he knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes while arresting him on the suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill.
Waters, whose congressional district in California includes much of Los Angeles, met at the weekend with protesters in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, where Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man, was killed by a police officer earlier this month.
“We are looking for a guilty verdict,” Waters said of the Chauvin case, which is being tried in nearby Minneapolis. “I hope that we are going to get a verdict that will say guilty, guilty, guilty. And if we don’t, we cannot go away.”
When asked what protesters should do if Chauvin is acquitted, she replied: “Well, we have got to stay on the street. We have to get more active. We have to get more confrontational. We have got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”
The comments from the 82-year-old congresswoman, who has been known to lock horns with her Republican colleagues, drew fire from conservative commentators and GOP lawmakers, including Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican.
McCarthy on Monday said he would introduce a resolution in the lower chamber of Congress to censure the congresswoman for her “dangerous comments”.
Protester Kristin Distante, who joined a march on Monday in downtown Minneapolis after travelling to the city to visit family, pointed out that politicians often made over-the-top statements — former President Donald Trump chief among them.
“The rightwing is using it as an excuse to deflect from the real issue, which is Derek Chauvin,” she said.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House, said the congresswoman did not need to apologise. “Maxine talked about confrontation in the manner of the civil rights movement,” Pelosi told reporters on Capitol Hill.
“I myself think we should take our lead from the George Floyd family,” she added. “They have handled this with great dignity”.
Waters later clarified her comments in an interview with The Grio, saying: “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. I’m talking about elected officials doing what needs to be done to control their budgets and to pass legislation.”
US president Joe Biden is expected to address the nation after the Chauvin jury reaches a decision. He told reporters at the White House on Tuesday that he was praying for the “right verdict”, after speaking privately with the Floyd family.
“They are a good family, and they are calling for peace and tranquility, no matter what that verdict is,” Biden said. “I am praying the verdict is the right verdict, which is, I think it is overwhelming in my view.
“I wouldn’t say that, but the jury [is] sequestered now, and cannot hear me say that,” he added.
When asked on Monday whether the president agreed with Waters, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Biden “has been very clear that he recognises the issue of police violence against people of colour, communities of colour is one of great anguish, and it’s exhausting and quite emotional at times”.
“His view is also that exercising first amendment rights and protesting injustice is the most American thing that anyone can do,” she added. “But as he also always says, protests must be peaceful. That’s what he continues to call for and what he continues to believe is the right way to approach responding.”
Waters drew fresh scrutiny late on Monday when Cahill lashed out at her in court.
Trisha Rich, a partner at Holland & Knight who specialises in legal ethics, said the legal issue with Waters’ comments was their potential to improperly influence the jury, causing them “to consider things outside the trial, such as whether there would be civil unrest”.
Jurors have been instructed not to watch the news, and the judge ultimately denied a defence request for a mistrial.
“I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful of the rule of law and the judicial branch, and our function,” Cahill said, but ultimately, “a congresswoman’s opinion really doesn’t matter a whole lot”.
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