Some who have rightly criticized the Republicans who incited the Jan. 6 rioters at the U.S. Capitol are now doing their own inciting, in Minnesota. Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California in particular risks having blood on her hands for suggesting that protesters should become "more confrontational" if a Minneapolis jury acquits Derek Chauvin.
Prosecutors have made what seems like an overwhelming case against Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer accused of murder or manslaughter in the suffocation death of Black suspect George Floyd. Should the jury fail to convict, critics would be justified in viewing it as yet another failure of American justice for Black victims. But advocating violence in the streets, or anywhere else, is never a justifiable response. It's a message that responsible civil rights advocates and political leaders should be conveying loudly as the verdict looms.
The events of Jan. 6 are evidence enough of the potentially deadly outcome when people in power urge the public to rise up violently: Then-President Donald Trump whipped up a mob of supporters gathered near the Capitol, telling them to to "fight like hell" and "stop the steal" — meaning, disrupt Congress' official certification of the presidential election. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and others lent credence to Trump's big lie of mass election fraud. The crowd subsequently invaded the Capitol, contributing to five deaths. Trump's words fit the dictionary definition of incitement.
So did Waters' comments in Minnesota on Saturday. Waters was participating in a protest of the recent police killing of another Black citizen, Daunte Wright, north of Minneapolis, as the Chauvin trial neared its conclusion. Standing atop these twin powder kegs, Waters pulled a Trump, saying: "We've got to stay on the street and we've got to get more active, we've got to get more confrontational. We've got to make sure that they know that we mean business."
That certainly sounds like a sitting congresswoman imploring an angry crowd to ignore the imposed curfews and, given the already high level of tensions, engage in violence. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans are calling Waters out, which is rich, considering their own shameful refusal to call out Trump for his more egregious incitement. But President Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders should in fact call out Waters for her unacceptable word choices.
Martin Luther King Jr. was unequivocal in his opposition to violence in the fight for civil rights. He couched it not just as a moral imperative but a strategic one. He called nonviolence "a powerful and just weapon," one that demonstrates how opponents of oppression are fundamentally more just in their cause than the purveyors of it. Whatever the Chauvin verdict, those who seek justice for Floyd would pollute their own cause by responding to the violence against him with more violence.
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