Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), in an interview published Wednesday, explained why she rejects the term “rioting” in describing violent protests, contending that the word is part of “negative language used far too often in a description of black people by folks who fundamentally don’t see black people the same way they see whites and others.”
Waters spoke to The Cut about her “longtime fight over the language of insurrection and unrest versus rioting” and told the outlet that the unrest in recent days brought her to reflect on “what was going on back in the day, when I was confronting Daryl Gates, starting when the police shot Eula Love, which brought me in contact with the police commission and brought me to taking a look at what was going on with police community relations” years ago.
She spoke in depth about her experience with Gates, Los Angeles’s former police chief, and explained how those events shaped her view of the “negative language” used today.
“A lot of negative language gets used against black people, describing what whites often believe is true about us: that language includes ‘lazy,’ ‘criminal,’ and ‘rioting,’” Waters told the outlet.
“It’s all negative language used far too often in a description of black people by folks who fundamentally don’t see black people the same way they see whites and others,” she continued, drawing a connection between the protests in 1992 and those that have played out over the last week:
So when they talked about rioting in 1992, what I saw was an explosion of a hopelessness being played out. I’d been working with those children in public housing and understood what was going on with crack cocaine, that these communities had been dropped off of America’s agenda, and the only real interaction they had was with police: the use of a battering ram to break down a door, as Daryl Gates did, or stopping young black men on the street to have them spread their legs to be searched by police. So when this unfortunate situation happened, where we had a lot of these young people in the street, they were acting out in anger and frustration. It reminded me of much of which I saw this past weekend, with people who had been cooped up because of COVID-19, who have lost jobs, whose family members have been getting infected, and then you have this police officer put his knee on the neck of George Floyd and hold it for eight minutes-plus, while his life drained out on the sidewalk … that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So yes, I said “insurrection”: People acting out of frustration and hopelessness and understanding that they don’t have an establishment — political or otherwise — that really cared about their ability to work or have good health care. Yes, I choose to call it an insurrection.
While it is true that there have been peaceful protests around the country, several demonstrations in major U.S. cities have turned into violent riots — a term Waters continues to reject. Over the past week, demonstrations in New York City, D.C., Philadelphia, and Santa Monica have quickly devolved as protesters took to the streets, attacking police officers, vandalizing buildings, smashing police vehicles, and looting businesses one by one:
Absolute Chaos along 4th street in Santa Monica… looting with impunity on both sides of the street. No police in sight. We’ve watched this happen to dozens of stores for 45 minutes now… pic.twitter.com/WOdEhIz3th
— Gadi Schwartz (@GadiNBC) May 31, 2020
Do you know any of these men❓Yesterday, May 30, these men violently attacked a store owner & her husband who were trying to protect their business from being looted. Please look at the video & still images. If you know any of them, please call Crime Stoppers @ 423-9300. pic.twitter.com/ECSNcfIcDc
— Patrol_Investigations_RPD (@PatrolRpd) May 31, 2020
POLICE CARS DESTROYED: Rioters destroy a line of police cars, ghost riding them into each other and setting them on fire in West Philadelphia.
— FOX 29 (@FOX29philly) May 31, 2020
The heavy toll for victims of looting. Alico, a mom and pop pharmacy in the Bronx was ravaged early Tuesday morning. What took the Rodriguez family 14 years to build, was destroyed in mere minutes. @abc7ny #devastating pic.twitter.com/ZoXmJEJpKl
— Lucy Yang (@LucyYang7) June 3, 2020
Violence targeting police was really bad last night:
-One US Marshall killed in Las Vegas
-Four officers shot in St. Louis
-At least two officers run over in Buffalo, NY
-One NYPD officer run over in the Bronx
-Another run over in Greenwich Villagehttps://t.co/YfNQoCZ1Yt
— Anders Hagstrom (@Hagstrom_Anders) June 2, 2020
Looters are literally pulling up in nice cars and cleaning out stores in #Soho. What #Curfew? #RIOT #LootingIsNotProtesting #GeorgeFloyd #NYCPROTEST #NYCRiots #NYPD @NBCNewYork pic.twitter.com/jIDZK1J4IA
— Keith Feldman (@NBCproducer) June 2, 2020
Incident commander at demonstration on Capitol Hill is declaring the incident a riot. Crowd has thrown rocks, bottles and fireworks at officers and is attempting to breach barricades one block from the East Precinct.
— Seattle Police Dept. (@SeattlePD) June 2, 2020
Feels like a very organized effort tonight – kids have turned up with hammers and big bags, they have spotters on the corners and cars ready to go. Group of about 500 kids now running up Fifth Ave looting whatever they want pic.twitter.com/vP97YCLis7
— Rachel Olding (@rachelolding) June 2, 2020
NYPD Cop attacked in the Bronx. I guess the critics will now say he overreacted. NYPD Cops defend yourselves, you are alone! pic.twitter.com/424w5bZbC6
— SBA (@SBANYPD) June 2, 2020
Rioting in DC hasn't stopped just because some of the journalists went home. They just set fire to the guardhouse in front of the White House. pic.twitter.com/nDDxmzk74i
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) June 1, 2020
Waters formally endorsed Joe Biden (D) this week after stating that Trump is “goading confrontation.” She also claimed the president is “not only talking about killing black people, he’s talking about killing young white children.”