By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES — While Black people across the country celebrated Derek Chauvin’s conviction for the murder of George Floyd last week, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters was not ready to label the jury’s decision as a breakthrough moment in the pursuit of meaningful police reform.
“It’s too early to say that,” Waters said in an interview this week with The Wave. “The conviction is a very important first step, but it’s too soon to see it as a great change. Police departments all over the country, and their police unions, are very strong. They have a lot of influence.”
Throughout Waters’ 30 years of service in Congress, she has tried to keep a spotlight on the questionable misconduct by police towards African-Americans — from the beating of Rodney King, to Floyd’s suffocating death, to the shooting of Daunte Wright and others.
The 82 year-old Waters, claiming she’s “still in shape to do what needs to be done,” maintains a busy agenda representing the 43rd Congressional District in South Los Angeles, but her mission to diminish police brutality remains one of her top priorities.
While discussing her commitment to police reform, Waters addressed several other topics accompanying her 16th term, including President Joe Biden’s first 100 days in the White House, discrimination practices by local banks, the alleged influence of white supremacy in Congress and her future.
“My future is my present,” said Waters, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee. “I have too much energy and too much work to do to slow down. I wake up everyday saying ‘What can I do to change the way our country operates?’ I’m going to work at this until such time I can’t do it anymore.”
Waters demonstrated her energy level two weeks ago when she traveled to Brooklyn Center, Minn., to join a younger generation of protesters upset over Wright’s fatal shooting by a police officer on April 11.
During Waters’ visit, she caused a stir when she said “we need to get more confrontational” if Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was not convicted of killing Floyd.
Chauvin was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on April 20.
Conversations are getting louder around the country about the fatal shootings of unarmed African-Americans by police. Waters hopes that America is listening.
“There are people who never heard our complaints … they never really understood what we were talking about,” Waters said.
Waters said she appreciates the way Biden has made police reform a part of his agenda. Biden’s administration is supporting the Department of Justice in its plans to investigate the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments for potential civil rights abuses and long-term allegations of misconduct towards African Americans.
The federal inquiries are part of the reason Waters is giving Biden positive reviews so far. Biden gave his first speech to Congress April 27.
“The president has a lot to talk about,” Waters said of Biden. “He has given real attention to COVID and helped get stimulus checks to people who really need it and deserve it. It’s quite the opposite from [former President Donald] Trump. Trump didn’t really care about the virus and he misled people.”
Though Trump avoided impeachment for his alleged role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Waters and other legislators remain concerned over the apparent presence of fellow lawmakers embracing white supremacy and extremist right-wing beliefs. Trump was accused of supporting that culture during his one term in the White House.
Speaking at a Republican retreat in Orlando, Fla., on April 26, Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, the House Republican Conference chair, said that any elected officials who were complicit in the riot should be “disqualified.”
“Congress has changed significantly with white supremacy,” Waters said. “We’re worried about the growing right wing. I feel bad for the American public that we have such dangerous people aligned with this culture.”
When asked if she was concerned about her safety in the Capitol, working alongside lawmakers with alleged ties to extremism, Waters quipped: “I have learned to live with dangerous people who are racists…”
In spite of extremist concerns, the 117th Congress is the most diverse in history. A record 124 lawmakers are either African-American, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific or Native American.
The surge in diversity represents 23% of the members of Congress. Of the 124 minorities, 59 are African American. When Waters was first elected to Congress in 1990, there were 28 African-American lawmakers.
“Fifty-nine votes can determine a piece of legislation,” Waters said. “The fact that we have more people of color in Congress today is a sign of significant progress.”
Waters expressed disappointment that California is losing one of its 53 congressional seats because of census data, which is used to help appropriate federal money to local governments. The 2020 census report was released this week.
The report revealed a large enough population drop in California to cost the state a seat in Congress. California still has the highest number of congressional seats in the country.
“I’m not surprised we didn’t get the numbers,” Waters said. “California is a very expensive state. People are leaving to go to other states. The cost of living in our state is so high. People can’t afford it, and with COVID, things got worse. Our elected officials have to change the way they relate to their constituents.”
Waters indicated that economic concerns in her district remain among her top agenda items, specifically housing, homelessness and predatory lending by banks. The inability to find affordable housing, Waters believes, has contributed to a recent exodus of people moving away from California, long considered one of the more desirable destinations in the country.
Waters mentioned southern states such as North Carolina and Mississippi as target areas for people wanting to leave California. The financial stability for African Americans in Southern California is something Waters wants to improve.
“People can’t afford to pay their rent and mortgages,” Waters said. “And it’s tough for people in our community to get credit and loans. These credit agencies are causing so much harm with the way they determine if we’re credit worthy.”
The Housing and Urban Development agency falls under Waters’ jurisdiction with her House Financial Services Committee. Waters said she’s leading a hearing on Capitol Hill “in the next week or so” to discuss red lining and predatory lending concerns with major banks.
As she stated earlier, she has no intentions of slowing down.
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at email@example.com.