Judge Declares Waters’ Comments ‘Abhorrent’

They were "disrespectful to the rule of law."

Yesterday, I noted that a handful of Republican politicians and the right-wing news complex was calling out Rep. Maxine Waters for her comments on the Derek Chauvin trial. Now, we have someone a bit more credible: the judge presiding over said trial.

YahooNews (“Judge calls out Maxine Waters’s comments on Chauvin murder trial as ‘abhorrent’“):

Just moments after the jury had exited the courtroom on Monday to begin deliberations in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, Chauvin’s defense attorney pushed for a mistrial over its coverage.

“Now that we have U.S. representatives threatening acts of violence in relation to the specifics of this specific case, it’s mind-boggling to me,” Eric Nelson, Chauvin’s attorney, said to the judge.

“Well, I’ll give you that Congresswoman Waters may have given you something on appeal that may result in this whole trial being overturned,” Judge Peter Cahill replied.

Over the weekend, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., attended a Black Lives Matter rally in Brooklyn Center, Minn., to protest the killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a Black man, by police. At the rally, she encouraged activists to “get more confrontational” if Chauvin is not convicted of murder.

“I hope we get a verdict that says guilty, guilty, guilty,” Waters said Saturday in response to a reporter’s question. “And if we don’t, we cannot go away. We’ve got to stay on the street. We get more active, we’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”

Like Nelson, Cahill took issue with the congresswoman’s comments.

“I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law,” Cahill said. “I think if they want to give their opinions, they should do so respectfully and in a manner that is consistent with their oath to the Constitution, to respect a coequal branch of government.”

He went on to call Waters’s comments “abhorrent” but not prejudicial to the jury.

“They have been told not to watch the news,” Cahill said. “I trust that they are following those instructions.”

Obviously, he wasn’t going to call a mistrial at this stage of the proceedings. But the defense attorney was right to get the objection on the record for appeal in the event his client is found guilty.

Cahill, of course, is a middle-aged white guy. But he’s definitely not a right-winger. A NYT profile notes,

Judge Peter A. Cahill is a 14-year veteran of the bench in Hennepin County. He has previously worked as a public defender, private defense lawyer and prosecutor, rising to become chief deputy under Amy Klobuchar, now a U.S. senator, when she served as the county attorney.

Nor has he been hostile to the cause of racial justice:

He has so far won praise in Derek Chauvin’s trial. He kept jury selection on schedule despite obstacles like the city’s announcement of a $27 million settlement with George Floyd’s estate, which raised fears that the jury would be swayed, and an appellate court’s ruling on the charges against Mr. Chauvin. Over the prosecution’s objections, Judge Cahill ordered that the trial be televised, a first in Minnesota, because public access to the courtroom was limited by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a lengthy 2015 decision, Judge Cahill dismissed charges against the organizers of a large Black Lives Matter rally at the Mall of America, saying the demonstration had been peaceful.

He seems genuinely committed to a fair trial and Waters’ comments make it harder to achieve that.

Such high profile cases have to be incredibly hard to manage. The jury pool is tainted from the beginning and the media coverage is so over-saturated that it’s simply impossible not to be influenced by it. And, even without Waters’ inflammatory rhetoric, that the city is a tinderbox and that violence is likely if the jury fails to convict is inescapable. There’s only so much a judge can do here.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Law and the Courts, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. KM says:

    I will take this seriously as soon as conservatives start saying any trial Trump commented on should immediately be up for appeal. I don’t want to hear about Waters’ “inflammatory rhetoric” after we suffered and suffered because of 4 years of POTUS running his mouth. Add in Greene, Hawley, Cruz et al and I just can’t today.

    My hypocrisy level is extremely low today. Chauvin’s likely going to walk on most if not all charges because this country sucks and we’re going to see cities burn because of it. Those are just facts at this point because people are fed up. How many people have cops killed since this trial started? Waters had nothing to do with the simmering anxiety that we’re about to see a blatant murderer walk because of his uniform. She merely told you what was obviously going to happen. When even the police tossing one of their own under the bus isn’t enough to reassure people justice may be done, you know it’s gonna go bad.

    They would have seized any pretense for a mistrial. Again, if nobody got one due to Trump’s rhetoric for almost half a decade, why should Waters’ be solid grounds… other then rank hypocrisy?

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  2. Gustopher says:

    @KM:

    They would have seized any pretense for a mistrial. Again, if nobody got one due to Trump’s rhetoric for almost half a decade, why should Waters’ be solid grounds… other then rank hypocrisy?

    I can think of a reason. Rhymes with bigger.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    @KM: Trump was impeached for incitement. But what comments did he make in other instances that were comparable to this? That is, where did he urge his supporters to “get more confrontational” if a jury acquitted a particular defendant?

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  4. mattbernius says:

    I think Charlie Sykes’ take on this situation this morning at the Bulwark is worth considering:
    https://morningshots.thebulwark.com/p/a-nation-on-edge?r=2k4r8

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  5. Jay L Gischer says:

    Well, I’ll accept the abstract principle that this is bad. And when I see consequences for Trump’s speech of Jan 6, I’ll accept consequences for Waters’ of this week. In some sense, it isn’t Cahill’s fault. He’s trying to do his job as he understands it, and I like his understanding.

    It’s the giant exceptions carved out for guys like Trump I don’t like.

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  6. @James Joyner:

    He made several statements about the case of the American soldier who was held by Taliban allies in Pakistan when he was a candidate for President.

    Going back further in time, he called for the death penalty for the “Central Park Five” who were convicted of the rape and death of a woman in Central Psrk in NYC. It was ultimately proved that their confessions were coerced and the police ultimately arrested someone else in the case. They each got sizable settlements from the state. Trump has never apologized for those comments.

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  7. Scott F. says:

    ‘Abhorrent’ is a very strong adjective that should be reserved for extreme negative response. Derived from the same Latin word meaning ‘shuddering away from in horror,’ it seems overblown to use it to describe mischaracterized political rhetoric (By her words, Waters didn’t call, or even dog-whistle, for violence.). It would be a more suitable adjective for describing something like kneeling on a prone man’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.

    Sure, political firebrand provides grounds for appeal. Dog bites man. But, we should never lose sight of what should horrify us about Floyd/Chauvin. And it ain’t Maxine Waters.

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  8. @James Joyner:

    Trump was impeached for incitement. But what comments did he make in other instances that were comparable to this? That is, where did he urge his supporters to “get more confrontational” if a jury acquitted a particular defendant?

    I fully understand your distaste for any politicians making statements like this about a pending verdict.

    But, I think you are focusing more on abstraction than reality.

    Trump’s words I think very much led directly to 1/6, and to broader distrust of American democracy. (And I know you agree with this).

    Waters’ words are likely inconsequential for what happens next, whether she should have said them or not.

    I mean, there is going to be massive unrest if Chauvin is acquitted and I don’t think Waters’ words added to that probably one whit. A 100% probability is what it is.

    As such, Trump’s behavior is worse by several orders of magnitude.

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  9. KM says:

    @James Joyner :
    I’m not slogging through his tweets again – once was more than enough. Life’s too short to read Trump word salad.

    Honestly, it doesn’t even matter as his garbled nonsense could be taken any which way depending on the audience. Are you asking for a direct, specific and clear “go get somebody if they convict X”? Clarity from Donald Trump?? Surely you jest. That was never his style even before his decline – this is a man who did business like the Family and knew to never spell out what could get him in legal trouble. It was always indirect, rambling and aggressive BS designed to provoke anger and get the response he wanted while leaving him wiggle room. Man’s a weasel and uses weasel words. If you are asking for a clear smoking gun statement acceptable as court evidence, I likely cannot produce one but I could give you dozens a MAGAt or QAnon believer would think are.

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  10. Jay L Gischer says:

    @mattbernius: The Waters quote in that Sykes piece sounds more like Waters was saying, “Don’t give up if this doesn’t go our way! All that means is we have to work harder!”

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  11. JKB says:

    Seems CBS is doing its part to produce a mistrial, or at least an avenue for appeal, with this near doxing of a juror. The prosecutors came close to misconduct that called for a mistrial, but the judged denied each request, but each do create elements that could rise of an appeal. And, of course, even if acquitted, the feds will make an attempt at a civil rights prosecution.

    .@jamieyuccas reports on the makeup of the 14 jurors in the Derek Chauvin trial. At least one of them lives in Brooklyn Center, where Daunte Wright was fatally shot by police last week. https://t.co/QAcai1sXgl pic.twitter.com/CC3QNMjnDn

    — CBS News (@CBSNews) April 19, 2021

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  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    Waters was foolish, ‘abhorrent’ is hyperbole, what ‘they’ do does not justify everything ‘we’ do, and @JKB, you’re a Trumpie bigot, FO.

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  13. @Doug Mataconis:

    I just remembered the name of the Smericsn soldier I mentioned — Bowe Bergdhal

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowe_Bergdahl

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  14. As James said on Twitter, as a general rule political leaders should keep quiet about ongoing trials. Especially in cases where the country is on razor’s edge like this one.

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  15. DeD says:

    @James Joyner:

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/feb/14/trump-claims-legal-right-intervene-criminal-cases-william-barr-plea-not-tweet

    https://www.businessinsider.com/army-court-reviewing-bowe-bergdahl-conviction-trump-command-influence-2019-7

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/30/us/politics/trump-seals-eddie-gallagher.html

    Trump has a nasty habit of inordinately interfering in trials: Manafort, Stone, Flynn … the list can go on. It’s not about him specifically inciting anyone to violence, although he had done exactly that multiple times during his 2016 campaign and so-called presidency. It’s about his undue influence on litigation and support of evil doers. There us no comparison between Trump and Waters, and I’m not suggesting that you said there is one.

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  16. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Foolish it was, but I felt abhorrent a correct term for a politician demanding any particular verdict from a jury. A key aspect of our rule-of-law is having civilians rendering verdicts instead of elected officials, what threatens that is abhorrent. Abhorrent fits particularly well in this situation, to me, because the prosecution did their best and the local cops practically lined up to help toss Chauvin under a bus. A rare occurrence, and the dead opposite of what went down in the Rodney King incident.

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  17. Barry says:

    @KM: “I will take this seriously as soon as conservatives start saying any trial Trump commented on should immediately be up for appeal.”

    And comments from every other right-wing politician/police chief/police union head.

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  18. Barry says:

    James: “Cahill, of course, is a middle-aged white guy. But he’s definitely not a right-winger. A NYT profile notes,”

    James, the *norm*, the *overwhelming* norm for our legal system is that it takes an absurd amount of evidence to convict a police officer of even lesser charges.

    This judge is part of that system, and I am justified in considering him so.

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  19. Biden has commented on the Chauvin trial. Clearly rooting for a guilty verdict.

    This is inappropriate.

    https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/20/politics/biden-george-floyd-brother/index.html

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  20. CSK says:

    Joe Biden said today that he was praying for the right verdict. He added that he wouldn’t have said this if the jury hadn’t been sequestered.

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  21. mattbernius says:

    @JKB:

    Seems CBS is doing its part to produce a mistrial, or at least an avenue for appeal, with this near doxing of a juror.

    Here’s the tweet that he referenced.
    https://twitter.com/CBSNews/status/1384191499219324931

    I think you might be confused about what “doxing” means. As per Wikipedia: “Doxing or doxxing is the act of publicly revealing previously private personal information about an individual or organization, usually through the Internet.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doxing

    Referencing information in court-released, public documents in the context of this case isn’t doxing. Nor is simply saying “an unidentified individual lives in [X] neighborhood” doxing in any meaningful way.

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  22. Barry says:

    @mattbernius: Jame, you asked for quotes; Matt’s link provides a number of quotes. Very serious quotes.

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  23. @CSK:

    Still inappropriate

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  24. Bob@Youngstown says:

    He seems genuinely committed to a fair trial and Waters’ comments make it harder to achieve that.

    Taken for granted the Judge is committed to a fair trial, how exactly does Waters comments impact the fairness of this trial?
    The jury had been instructed to deliberate only on those elements and arguments presented in the courtroom. For all we know, the jury is oblivious to whatever Waters remarks made. It seems to me that Judge Cahill is suggesting that he does not have faith in the jury, assuming that the jury was exposed to comments by Waters (or Biden).

    IANAL, however, unless a a substantive argument can be put forth that the jury was in fact influenced by “outside” influences, a suggestion that an appeal based on Waters (or anyone else’s) comments is specious.

    My respect for the judge just went down several notches.

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  25. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I don’t think Private Citizen Trump’s comments about a trial that happened decades before he was President are germane. But I agree with @DeD that he made inappropriate comments in the Bergdahl and Gallagher cases. Those weren’t directly comparable to what Waters did, in that he wasn’t inciting violence there, but they were arguably Unlawful Command Influence (a subject about which I’ve written a lot over the years).

    @Steven L. Taylor: @Barry: I agree that Trump’s demagoguery helped incite the riots of 6 January. I said so at the time and, indeed, noted ahead of time that he was laying the groundwork for violence. I even agree that Trump was worse than Waters. I just don’t think condemning Waters requires condemning every past act—let alone of politicians that I spent five years condemning in real time–much less racking and stacking them.

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  26. Northerner says:

    @Gustopher:

    Not that they aren’t racist, but don’t defense lawyers automatically ask for a mistrial if they think they have a chance of making it stick? Their job seems to be to get their client off, whether they think the client is guilty or not.

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  27. Barry says:

    @Northerner: “Not that they aren’t racist, but don’t defense lawyers automatically ask for a mistrial if they think they have a chance of making it stick? Their job seems to be to get their client off, whether they think the client is guilty or not.”

    I’m wondering about this. How often do judges take an isolated remark from a Rep from another state, and recommend it to the defense as grounds for a mistrial?

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  28. Barry says:

    @Barry: I think that in the end the right is amplifying a bad remark by a Rep to drown out (a) the howling of their words and deeds and (b) to find some grounds for letting a murderer go free.

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  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    I think it’s obvious the judge was trying to forestall any further remarks by politicians. I don’t see a conspiracy here, or an attempt to help either side.

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  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    @dazedandconfused:
    I dislike the way everything is always turned up to 11. Waters’ remark was ‘unfortunate.’ I’d save ‘abhorrent’ for child molestation, rape and murder. Or for ideas like white supremacy. Otherwise what word do we use for genocide? Extra super abhorrent?

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  31. mattbernius says:

    @Northerner:

    Don’t defense lawyers automatically ask for a mistrial if they think they have a chance of making it stick?

    The answer is YES!

    Full stop, yes!

    That’s doing their job which is to provide their client with the best advocacy they can within the constraints of the law. Due process requires a robust defense. Frankly, from what I’ve seen, his team has been doing the best they can with a really crappy case.

    Also on the “abhorrent” point, I think the transcript of that moment is worth a read to understand the judges larger point:

    Judge Peter Cahill:
    This goes back to what I’ve been saying from the beginning. I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that is disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function. I think if they want to give their opinions, they should do so in a respectful and in a manner that is consistent with their oath to the Constitution, to respect a co-equal branch of government.

    Their failure to do so I think is abhorrent, but I don’t think it has prejudiced us with additional material that would prejudice his jury. They have been told not to watch the news, I trust they are following those instructions and that there is not in any way a prejudice to the defendant beyond the articles that we’re talking specifically about the facts of this case. A Congresswoman’s opinion really doesn’t matter a whole lot.

    https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts/judge-cahill-says-maxine-waters-comments-could-cause-trial-to-be-overturned-transcript-derek-chauvin-trial

    Let’s remember that at the end of the day, the judge’s final position was: “A Congresswoman’s opinion really doesn’t matter a whole lot” [in the context of the sequestered jury’s decision].

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  32. mattbernius says:

    All the above said (and lacking and edit feature) I still ultimately agree with @Doug Mataconis, in terms that sitting elected officials commenting on outcomes of trials prior to jury decisions (or if they are talking about sentencing) final dispositions is inappropriate.

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  33. Slugger says:

    I have no legal background. I understand that a mistrial occurs when outside influence affects the jury. Does the defense have to show that any juror actually was influenced? If I, a nobody, make an announcement about a trial does that constitute a mistrial? Do people in Minnesota give much credence to Representatives from California? If you showed a photo of Ms. Waters to the jury, how many of them would be able to identify her? I perhaps cruise the internet too much, stupid statements by public figures are not rare.

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  34. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Afraid I can’t reserve ‘abhorrent’ for the Holocaust and such, I need it for Brussel sprouts.

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  35. JKB says:

    Word is the verdict is in and will be read around 4-5 pm EDT

    Conviction, acquittal or hung jury mistrial, I think we’ll still see MPP (Mostly Peaceful Prostestor) violence and cities burning.

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  36. CSK says:

    @JKB:
    If it was going to be a hung jury, they’d have stayed out longer.

    It’s probably either guilty or innocent on all charges.

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  37. dazedandconfused says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Edit to add: In the wake of Trump’s 1/6 stunt, I found Maxine’s comments in front of a crowd of people contemplating a riot shudder-inducing. She should know better.

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  38. Tim says:

    @JKB:

    Even *IF* anybody other than you thought that CBS mentioning that a juror was from Brooklyn Center would count as doxxing (It doesn’t), that doesn’t matter. It was the Defense Attorney, Mr. Nelson, who mentioned that in open court yesterday, per the transcript (at 1:15PM):

    “Your Honor, we also, as I mentioned previously too, one of the jurors does live in the city Brooklyn Center, as I recall.”

    So, perhaps you should direct your ire in the right direction.

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  39. Sleeping Dog says:

    If the jury is back so quickly there is likely a judgement of guilty on some count. If they were to acquit, they’d be a few days reviewing the evidence and if they claim to be hung, the judge will send them back.

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  40. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JKB: I’m perfectly ready to watch the nation revert back to the grassroots sorts of police deescalation techniques practiced in, say, OAKLAND circa 1964 or so. I expect that you would be less happy, and while I would be unhappy, I am resigned to the possibility. Fortunately as Captain Planet used to say “the power is in your hands” (and, of course, those who share your thoughts and values). How will you use this power. So far, needing to be resigned to the possibility is winning.

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  41. Dude Kembro says:

    Middle-aged white men don’t have to be right wing to be agents of white supremacy or cogs an a racist system. Racist systems will always look for the nearest black or brown person to scapegoat and blame for its failure to hold racists accountable.

    Shades of Neera Tanden’s “mean tweets” being the end of world according to the same system that propped up and empowered Trump and Ric Grenell.

    Dr. King called for “militant nonviolence.” I see no difference with Maxine, down to the fact that when Dr. King lived he never polled as having majority approval with white Americans, the white establishment having portrayed him as a violent agitator.

    Maxine was correct. Decent, patriotic Americans must be more confrontational with this resurgence of Jim Crow white supremacy and impunity, one that enables extrajudicial execution of unarmed Americans without trial or due process.

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  42. mattbernius says:

    @Tim:
    Great catch.

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  43. Raoul says:

    Confrontational is defined as dealing with a situation in a more aggressive way so Waters is probably correct that if we have a not guilty verdict we need to figure out what’s wrong more aggressively. That said I would have been more prudent.

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  44. mattbernius says:

    Guilty on all three charges.

    For the first time in Minnesota state history, a white police officer has been held accountable for killing a Black man.

    I for one hope that all police in Minnesota commit to non-violence and community healing even though this is case where a ruling has gone against one of their own. They have to set an example to show us that they reject a culture of violence.

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  45. gVOR08 says:

    Yes. Guilty, guilty, and guilty. All three charges. Can we now regard Rep. Waters remarks as the trivia they really are, and were yesterday?

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  46. mattbernius says:

    @JKB:

    Conviction, acquittal or hung jury mistrial, I think we’ll still see MPP (Mostly Peaceful Prostestor) violence and cities burning.

    And, just wanted to point out that yet again, your prognostication skills need a bit of work.

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  47. Zachriel says:

    @James Joyner: But what comments did he make in other instances that were comparable to this?

    “Lock her up! Lock her up!”

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  48. Christopher Rudolph says:

    @James Joyner: In confronting your take on this I can tell you that “confrontational” does not necessarily mean violent. It just might just mean she is advocating that folks fully exercise their right to petition their government and actively demand change. So unless there is any specific language she used to incite violence, there is not much to see here.

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  49. James Joyner says:

    @Christopher Rudolph: She advocated being “more confrontational “ in the context of protests that have already been violent. That’s not a suggestion to write more sternly-worded petitions.

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  50. Christopher C Rudolph says:

    @James Joyner: Context is in the eye of the beholder.

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