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THE SITUATION ROOM

Chicago Imposes Strict Policies After Night Of Violent Protests; Philadelphia Orders 8 P.M. Curfew For Second Night; New Video Shows Moments Before George Floyd Is Pinned To The Ground; Interview with Mayors Michael Hancock (D) Of Denver And Erin Mendenhall (D) Of Salt Lake City About The Protests; NYPD Investigating After Police Car Appears To Drive Into Protesters; Serious Divide Allegedly Among Trump Advisers Over How to Address Protests. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired May 31, 2020 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[13:00:30]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington, and this is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a nation under siege on two fronts. Protests and a pandemic. And today silence from the White House as mayors survey the damage in the cities and plead for calm and order.

The demonstrations erupting overnight across the United States. Started with protests in cities both large and small, and then turned violent at times. Thirteen states activating the National Guard as curfews were ordered to limit crowd sizes.

The outrage boiling over following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to be able to go into a white neighborhood and feel safe. I want to be able, when a cop who's driving behind me, I don't have to clench and be tense. OK? I want to be able just to be free and not have to think about every step I take. Because at the end of the day, being black is a crime. At the end of the day, being born black is a crime to them. And I don't understand why. Because we're all humans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Protesters and police face backlash for the growing violence of these demonstrations. The NYPD is investigating after this video showed a police SUV ramming into a crowd of protesters after they threw objects at the vehicle.

All this as we're seeing new video of the moments leading up to George Floyd's death. The clip taken from a security camera appears to show police struggling with something in their cruiser, though you never see Floyd directly.

These developments playing out amid mounting economic frustration in the United States. More than 40 million Americans facing unemployment because of the coronavirus pandemic. The disease has taken the lives of more than 103,000 Americans already. Thousands more likely in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

It's just the latest issue disproportionately affecting the African- American community, as well. Today Chicago is announcing strict new precautionary measures following a violent night of protests. The city saying it's shutting down its central business district and initiating a curfew. Protesters smash windows, they vandalize store fronts on Saturday. Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded to those protests only moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT, CHICAGO: I'm also hurt and angry, but those who decided to try to hijack this moment and use it as an opportunity to wreak havoc, to loot, and to destroy, you should be ashamed of yourselves. What you have done is to dishonor yourself, your family, and our city.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: CNN's Ryan Young is in Chicago for us. He's joining us on the phone right now.

Ryan, very dramatic developments unfolding in Chicago. What more do we know about these new safety measures the city is imposing? And give us a deeper sense of what has happened there over the past several hours?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Wolf, well, that is -- it was a scary situation last night. One person was killed during the melee that took place last night. There was six other shootings and, of course, we saw massive amounts of looting throughout the evening.

And one thing I will tell you, though, the protests started early in the day and for at least five hours they were very peaceful and people were using their right to walk through the streets to protest. They held up signs. They wanted to talk about police violence and the systemic changes they wanted to see. But as I was alluding to yesterday, an element changed at some point and we saw people who were arriving who seem prepared to do damage to the city.

They had hammers. They had other sort of sharp objects to break windows, and we started seeing people breaking windows and encouraging others to join in. Police officers, for the most part, tried to keep a perimeter, at one point, trying to stop protesters from moving toward Trump Plaza. We saw police cars set on fire.

We also saw the police department try to a tactic where they would raise the bridge to stop people from going down Michigan Avenue. But the protesters moved around the famous Lake Shore Drive, went down Michigan Avenue setting several police cars on fire, and then they started throwing fireworks toward the police officers. There was a response from police. They used pepper spray on several protesters and tried to disperse them. But through the night we saw things ratchet up another level.

[13:05:03]

People started setting trash bins on fire, moving them into the street, and massive sense of looting was ratcheted up. We did see people in the street trying to confront some of the violent protesters. I said this yesterday, there was some protesters there who grew very angry with another set who was trying to take over the protest. At one point, it got so violent and you saw police try to set another perimeter to block people off from the city.

Now it is very difficult, Wolf, to get back into town because they have blocked off the entire inner downtown district. It is difficult to even drive a car into that area. They shut down the bus terminals. They shut down the CTA, and they're using transportation trucks to block off the routes into the city at this point. And the National Guard has been activated. They're bringing in close to 300 National Guard members to supplement the police department.

BLITZER: And if people violate the curfew tonight, will they be arrested?

YOUNG: Well, I think that would be the goal because there's been a couple hundred that were arrested last night. But one thing that we saw, we saw police officers chasing people who were doing violent acts at some point. We even saw protesters getting hit with rocks that were thrown by other protesters. And when police officers tried to step in, sometimes that's when they were attacked.

So it's one of those situations where it seemed like they were outmanned and in terms of being just a massive amount of people that were coming downtown. You're talking about a few thousand people who were moving through the city with the state police, with the Chicago police, but now with the National Guard, I believe they'll be able to set a better perimeter.

But it did get dicey at last night at one point, Wolf, when people were screaming and yelling. And there were many times that people thought things were gunshots, people would start running, then they realized they were fireworks. But now that we know one person was killed last night, six other shootings. It's something that just really hurts your heart when you see what sort of turned out with what happened last night.

BLITZER: It certainly does. Ryan Young, be careful over there on the streets of Chicago. We'll check back with you, of course.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Philadelphia is ordering yet another city-wide curfew later tonight starting at 8:00 p.m. Protests turning violent late Saturday with cars and businesses set on fire and some looting, as well. Thirteen police officers were injured. Philadelphia Police say at least 38 people were arrested.

CNN's Brian Todd was in the middle of those protests last night. He's joining us right now.

So what is the latest, Brian? What's the plan for tonight? What are you seeing? What are you hearing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, still pretty tense atmosphere here in Philadelphia. We're in the Chestnut Street area. A lot of high-end shops here. This is, you know, where some of the primary looting took place. Some of the worst looting and chaos ensued.

And you just got police officers here guarding the entrance to a Modell store. We can show you that there's debris throughout there. The store completely ransacked last night. You got police officers here inside and outside guarding the entrance to this place.

And I can walk you down here a little bit and show you there's a police presence in front of the foot locker over there. They're guarding the entrance to that, as well. So you've got police officers kind of, you know, roaming the beat here. It's pretty calm right now but again they may be anticipating further protests in anticipation of that.

City officials restricted access to this area, to the city center -- excuse me, the center city area of Philadelphia. They're restricting access to this throughout the day. There's going to be a curfew later on tonight. At the same time, you've got, you know, the police presence here at these entrances and you've got a little bit of tension on the streets. But you've also got volunteers.

There are people over here cleaning up. We a church group volunteering down the street, scrubbing graffiti off the side of the building. So a lot of people coming out wanting to kind of get things cleaned up here. We have an updated figure for you. 140 some arrests last night. Many of them for looting. Some of them for violating curfew.

You mentioned 13 police officers were injured last night. At least one of them is still hospitalized because he was struck by a vehicle, Wolf, so we can give you that updated number on injuries and arrests.

BLITZER: And just smashing those windows in and going into the stores and looting. Awful, awful situation.

All right, Brian, thank you very much. Be careful later today, as well.

Now to the epicenter of all this outrage here in the United States, we're talking about Minneapolis. As protests continue there, we're seeing new video of the moments leading up to George Floyd's death.

CNN's Josh Campbell is on the scene for us.

Josh, we now have this new video of the events that led to the death of George Floyd. So give us the latest, first of all, on the investigation.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, every new piece of information we seem to learn in this case causes more questions including this new video that we saw which appears to show officers struggling with someone in the back of a vehicle, which we assume was George Floyd.

You cannot see him in that video. But, you know, I can tell you when you're trying to seat belt a suspect in, it's often could be a dangerous moment if the person tries to struggle. So what we could be seeing there is Floyd struggling with the officers and then the video ends.

But we talked to law enforcement experts who tell us that regardless of what happened in the car, the critical moment here for this investigation is when he's on the ground, when that knee is on his neck, which would be unrelated to what happened in the back of the vehicle.

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So many more questions here, Wolf, as this continues. As you said, this is the epicenter. Let me tell you where we are right here. We are outside the Fifth Precinct here in Minneapolis Police Department. You can see they've erected razor wire and fencing throughout this police department. We know that one police department was torched. They didn't want the same thing to happen here.

Up on the roof here, you can see that the officers have set up different barriers. Last night they were out here in full force behind these barriers. You can see off to the left there, the overturned table that they were using as concealment. The reason is there were dozens and dozens of protesters out here. Some of them turning very violently. Officers launching projectiles into this crowd.

Some of them what we're holding here. These were from the streets. And before the cleanup began, the street was littered with these nerve gas. You have a rubber bullet which were fired into this crowd trying to get them to disperse and out of this area.

Of course, those images, Wolf, are similar what we saw across the country with some protests turning violent. Yet to be seen whether we'll see more of that tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Josh, the president just tweeted about designating Antifa, far-left group here in the United States, a terrorist organization. He tweeted this, he said, "The United States of America will be designating Antifa as a terrorist organization."

So tell us specifically what does it mean as far as the Justice Department here in Washington and the FBI are concerned designating Antifa as a terrorist organization? We know the president and the attorney general of the United States, they both blame Antifa for a lot of the violence that erupted in these major U.S. cities.

CAMPBELL: Yes. It's so unclear. I mean, the president's tweet, as you mentioned, says that he intends to designate Antifa as a terrorist organization. Now we heard Attorney Barr say that leftist groups are responsible. We heard state elected officials saying that it was right-wing -- white supremacists that were potentially involved in this as well.

But with the president and the Justice Department now looking at designating this group as a terrorist organization, it is still unclear what that means because that designation is typically reserved for foreign terrorist organizations. In fact, under federal law, Wolf, it says that it has to be foreign. A foreign nexus, which there's no clear indication that Antifa is, and also point out that there's no domestic terrorism statute here in the United States.

So yet to be seen whether this is bluster, whether this is the president maybe trying to push for some new law or policy but it appears right now that any designation as a terrorist organization doesn't seem to fit squarely under federal code as it fits right now. We'll have to wait to see whether the attorney general wants to move that forward, that ball forward as it relates to now looking at domestic terrorists and using the Justice Department to go after them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, good explanation. Josh Campbell, be careful over there in Minneapolis, as well. Thank you.

Joining us now to discuss all of this and more, the mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah, Erin Mendenhall, and the mayor of Denver, Colorado, Michael Hancock.

To both mayors, thank you very much under these circumstances. I know it's tough in your cities, as well.

Mayor Hancock, what's your reaction first of all to the nationwide demonstrations we've seen here in the United States over the last few days?

MAYOR MICHAEL HANCOCK (D), DENVER: Thanks for having me, Wolf. Glad to be here with my counterpart, Mayor Mendenhall, as well. Let me just share with you that, you know, we -- I've been in conversation with mayors all over the country over the last 72 hours, from L.A. to New York. There are about a dozen of us who are on a stream text. What we were talking about what's happening in our city. And quite frankly, it's the same pattern.

We have peaceful, successful demonstrations during the daytime. They disperse or as they're dispersing we see as the night begins to fall, that the crowd changes over. And it's a much more aggressive, much more intentional group that carry weapons. They're coming in with the intent of provoking our law enforcement and creating damage.

And we have seen this now for 72 hours, four days, and I'm glad to see that the president is finally catching up and joining because we have been receiving intel for several days now that we knew that there was an organized effort embedding themselves using the peaceful protesters as shield to promote their own agenda.

BLITZER: I want to get to more of that. But, Mayor Mendenhall in Salt Lake, you released an open letter to the people of Salt Lake City yesterday acknowledging that systematic racism does still exist in your city and it affects your residents every single day. So what concrete steps need to be taken in Salt Lake City, indeed around the country to address this injustice?

MAYOR ERIN MENDENHALL (D), SALT LAKE CITY: We need to look at this as an opportunity. And I know right now we're looking at the violence and the destruction that's happening but really the opening of America to be able to be -- and be willing to unpack the unpack the underbelly of racism that is visible to us from the devices we carry in our pockets every single day is an opportunity for us as a nation, for local communities, to unpack and rebuild.

[13:15:02]

It's not really about a broken system. It's about a system that's been broken from the beginning. And we're going to have to rebuild this together. So it's with hope that we move forward and, fortunately, right now the streets of Salt Lake City are quiet and calm as we have a curfew in place.

BLITZER: Let's hope it stays that way.

Mayor Hancock, you mentioned that outside agitators are involved in creating the violence in Denver, your city, and elsewhere. First of all, tell us where you're getting this information, who specifically? Because the president is blaming a far-left group Antifa saying he now wants to designate that group as a terrorist organization.

HANCOCK: I wouldn't be surprised if Antifa is behind. We don't have a specific information that they are directly engaged but we have intel that we have watched as -- and intercepted, frankly, groups that were coming into Denver. We have confiscated weapons including assault weapons that were headed to the demonstrations.

You don't show up at peaceful demonstrations with assault weapons, handguns, baseball bats, golf ball, and flashbang bottles with the intent of being peaceful. We know that these individuals that we have arrested now and we have begun to identify who they are, they're not from Denver. They're coming in.

Now that's not all of them. We know that, unfortunately, some of the peaceful demonstrators, a few of them, decide to stick around to see what happens and they get caught up in the crossfire, they get caught up in the provocation of our law enforcement. Many of them have been victim of the tear gas that have been deployed by the law enforcement, but it's really unfortunate because we all stand in unity with the message that is trying to -- that we're trying to elevate.

We continue these critical conversations as the mayor -- Mayor Mendenhall has mentioned. The reality, though, is that we have people who are using these protesters as a way to promote an agenda that has nothing to do with George Floyd or the values and the message we're trying to get across but to promote damage and violence in our cities.

BLITZER: Have you seen that, Mayor Mendenhall, in Salt Lake City, as well? Outside agitators, whether the far-right, the far-left coming in and fomenting this kind of violence?

MENDENHALL: You know, our protests started at 11:00 a.m. yesterday and about 4:00 p.m. they turned violent. And it really wasn't a dramatic separation of peaceful protesters going home and then violent protests coming out.

There was lot of mixing in the beginning and throughout. It was by about midnight that our streets were quieted down and the majority of arrests had taken place and the curfew, as I said, have been in place since then and hold it until Monday morning. But we have yet to unpack of the arrests that we've made, who the instigators are, what their locations are, and we're anxious to find that out.

BLITZER: It's sad, Mayor Hancock, we've all seen videos like the video of George Floyd before -- similar kind of videos. We've seen protests before getting violent. What do you think needs to happen now in our country to prevent the next death?

HANCOCK: You know, the reality is that, as Mayor Mendenhall I think very appropriately pointed out, this is a long-term systemic challenge that we as a nation must be fearless in moving forward to address. We must be vulnerable. We must be willing to be bold, to confront what we know is a longstanding, deeply embedded innate challenge in our nation. Racism. An innate bias and fear between police officers and African-American men, in particular, and other people of color as well as a fear that goes the other way.

You know, we must recognize those things. Pull back the veil and have those hard conversations. But the conversations can't be the end result. It must also be backed up by action. We've got to change policies, we've got to be willing to hold each other accountable. We've got to have collaborative conversation between a community and law enforcement.

We must be vulnerable. But it starts with leadership. And we cannot have tweets that go counter to the progress and notion that we got to call everyone to the table and say now is the time for the conversations and the construction of plans and agendas that allow us to move forward as a nation. And this is not going to be done overnight. This is going to take generations because it did not take generations to create.

BLITZER: Mayor Michael Hancock of Denver, Mayor Erin Mendenhall of Salt Lake City, you both have beautiful, wonderful cities, good luck. I know these next several hours are going to be very, very tense in your cities, indeed other cities around the United States as well. Thanks so much to both of you for joining us.

HANCOCK: Thank you, Wolf.

MENDENHALL: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: All right, still ahead, an investigation now being called after a New York City police vehicle hits the gas, driving through a crowd of protesters. Plus, a White House apparently divided as protesters target the nation's capital. Sources telling CNN that President Trump and his aides appear to be split over how to address these protests. And the pain of the pandemic. There are now very, very serious

concerns about all these protests and they could lead to another spike of coronavirus cases already disproportionately affecting African- Americans.

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Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In New York City, more than 340 people were arrested and dozens of police officers injured during a very, very chaotic night of demonstrations across the five boroughs. At least three people are now facing charges in connection with Molotov cocktail attacks on the NYPD, as nearly four dozen police vehicles were damaged or completely destroyed last night.

[13:25:06]

CNN's Polo Sandoval is joining us from New York right now.

So, Polo, what are you seeing?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, when you and I spoke yesterday authorities had already told us that there were multiple individuals that were detained, that they were suspected actually of throwing those Molotov cocktails and occupied NYPD vehicle. Well, we now know that those individuals will be charged in that attack.

And this is really just the latest in a string of these investigations that we've seen on behalf of authorities looking into these incidents but at the same time we're also learning of other investigations that are happening right now. Looking into the actions of NYPD officers, specifically one of them, the video we learned about it yesterday about an incident in Brooklyn.

And in that video you could actually see an NYPD vehicle essentially plow through a crowd of individuals in Brooklyn, New York. We heard from the NYPD commissioner just a short while ago. The commissioner saying that there are protests and there are mobs. And the commissioner saying that what we saw there was more closer to a mob and it was possibly carrying out an ambush.

We also heard from Mayor Bill de Blasio a short while ago saying that he will look into this incident.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: It has to be investigated systematically. Everything needs to be looked at. I don't want to get in to you with, you know, could they have done this thing, that thing, because I wasn't there. And I don't know the nuances of it.

I know what happened. I don't like, I don't ever want to see a police officer do that, period. Period. Ever. But I also know that there was extremely dangerous situation and the one thing they couldn't do was stay there. So rather than me theorize, let's get you the facts of both the police investigation and the independent investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANDOVAL: And we're also learning more about what actually went down. According to one NYPD official telling CNN that the police officer on board noticed that there were bottles being thrown at that vehicle. That there was a brick and then eventually a flaming bag. And when he saw those flames, that's when he actually hit the gas and then of course when what went down there.

But really what we're seeing here, Wolf, is obviously two very different kinds of demonstrators, as we've heard from authorities across the country really. There are those peaceful demonstrators that are trying to get their message across and then there are also those that are instigating violence and specifically targeting officers.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a very, very tense, very serious situation in New York City. We'll see what happens in the coming hours, as well.

Polo, thank you.

Still ahead, CNN is learning President Trump and the White House, they appear to be split on how to respond to all these protests around the United States. This is a top White House adviser now claims there is no, repeat, no systematic racism in the nation's police forces.

So what can be done to calm the country right now?

Much more of our special coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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[13:32:24]

BLITZER: The mayor here in Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, is urging calm after protests turned very violent last night. Fire erupted behind the historic Hay-Adams Hotel, just a block away, one block away from the White House. But even as protesters and police clashed over on Pennsylvania Avenue, there is silence from the White House on the nationwide unrest.

Sources telling CNN there's a serious divide among President Trump's own top advisers over how to address all of this.

CNN's Sarah Westwood is over at the White House for us right now.

Sarah, the president's response to the crisis, particularly his tweets over the past few days, has come under a lot of criticism. First of all, do you know if the president has any plans to address the nation formally from the Oval Office any time soon?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are certainly people in his circle that want him to do that. Some of his aides and allies have been pushing him to address the unrest that we've seen in a more formal setting. Perhaps even in the Oval Office that would allow him to call for calm, to encourage unity. But then you have a whole other group of advisers who are pushing the president to more forcefully condemn the looting and some of the more destructive acts we've seen when some of these protests have spiraled out of control.

These people think that the president should be much more aggressive in calling out some of the destruction that we have seen from some of the protesters and they even worry that if the president fails to do so, he might risk alienating some of these demographic groups that are going to be vital for his re-election in November and underpinning all of this is the fear that if the president were to address the unrest in a more formal setting and adopt a more measured tone, that any effects of that could be undone pretty quickly if he reverts to the inflammatory tweets that have sort of characterized his response so far.

And meanwhile, the National Security adviser Robert O'Brien is saying that he does not believe that systemic racism is a problem in the nation's law enforcement. He told our colleague Jake Tapper this morning that he believes 99.9 percent of police are good and that there are just a few what he described as bad apples that tarnish the image of police overall. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I don't think there's systemic racism. I think 99.9 percent of our law enforcement officers are great Americans and many of them are African-Americans, Hispanic, Asian. They're work in the toughest neighborhoods. They've got the hardest jobs to do in this country. And I think they're amazing great Americans and they're my heroes.

But you know what? There are some bad apples in there, and that, you know, there are some bad cops that are racist and there are cops that are -- you know, maybe don't have the right training and there are some that are just bad cops. And they need to be rooted out because there's a few bad apples that are giving law enforcement a terrible name.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[13:35:05]

WESTWOOD: And Wolf, we should just note that what's driving these protests is not just a reaction to what happened to George Floyd, which is obviously horrifying, but really the pattern of mistreatment that the communities of color have experienced from law enforcement over many years. So O'Brien's comment runs the risk of being misinterpreted by some as a fundamental misunderstanding of what these protests are about.

BLITZER: All right, Sarah, thank you. Sarah Westwood over at the White House. Joining us now to discuss this and more, Cornell William Brooks, the

former president of the NAACP. He's a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School now, the director of the William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice. Also joining us Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary under President George W. Bush.

To both of you, thanks for joining us.

Mr. Secretary, first of all, what's your reaction to hearing the president's National Security adviser say that systemic racism does not exist within the U.S. police force?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: Look, any racial incident or instance of unprovoked violence that we saw with respect to George Floyd is unacceptable and not to be tolerated. And I'm not going to quantify how many police are good, how many are bad, I worked with many fine officers but -- and investigated some officers who were not competent or were not fair, and who've committed acts as heinous as we saw with respect to Mr. Floyd. So the answer is zero tolerance for police misbehavior and police racism.

BLITZER: Cornell, I want to play a clip from Professor Cornel West, a man you know. Here's what he told our Anderson Cooper about the past administration, we're talking about the Obama administration, and how it may have failed African-Americans in our country. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORNEL WEST, PROFESSOR OF PRACTICE OF PUBLIC PHILOSOPHY, HARVARD: The Black Lives Matter movement emerged under a black president, black attorney general, and black Homeland Security, they couldn't deliver. You see?

So that when you're talking about the masses of black people, the precious poor and working class black people, poor and working class brown, red, yellow, whatever color, they're the ones who were left out and they feel so thoroughly powerless, helpless, hopeless then you get rebellion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Cornell, what's your reaction to that?

BROOKS: My reaction to this, to my colleague Professor Cornel West, it's quite simply this. The inspiration, the tragic history that gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement predated the administration of President Obama. So let's be clear here, the disparities in arrests, the disparities in punishment, the disparities in police-involved homicides predate the Obama administration. The era of mass incarceration began well before President Obama.

So the point being here is the duty to which black people's bodies are being brutalized as we speak is not a matter of one administration or one president. That's simply the historical record. And to go, Wolf, to the security adviser's observations about there not being systemic racism in the ranks of the police, I'm not sure what planet in which universe you could draw such a conclusion.

Because the reality is when a -- when black men literally have as a leading cause of death police homicide, when you have a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by the police in your lifetime. Where jails and prisons are literally filled with black and brown bodies. Not based upon disproportionate criminality but disproportionate punishment and sentencing and treatment. And so let's not be naive here.

We're dealing with a longstanding problem that is grounded in America's problem. It's a fundament original sin, being slavery, manifested as systemic racism. That's the issue here. And let's not --

BLITZER: All right.

BROOKS: Be naive. This is not President Obama's fault.

BLITZER: All right. Let me bring back the former secretary of Homeland Security.

Mr. Secretary, there seems to be several different so-called mixed messages coming out on who exactly is fomenting the violent acts during these protests in major American cities. Local officials in Minneapolis said it's white supremacist. The Trump administration is blaming the radical left, Antifa, specifically, which the president tweeted today is a terrorist organization. What do you think?

CHERTOFF: Well, I have spoken to a number of people separately and informally. Let me begin by saying the vast majority of people demonstrating are doing that out of a sincere desire to protest what they understandably deem as real misbehavior by the police.

[13:40:04]

And that's completely appropriate. It does appear that there are some people coming from outside. Some of them armed with semiautomatic weapons, driving around in automobiles without license plates, who are seizing on these events to try to create a violent reaction. And in some cases, for example, in Washington, they actually encouraged people to stay around essentially to be like a mask or a shield while carrying out acts of violence.

Now some of these are white supremacists. Some of them are far left agitators. What they share in common is a desire to have some kind of violent outbreak which would achieve their ideological -- and frankly whether they're the extreme right or extreme left, it shouldn't be tolerated. People are being arrested.

We also need to take a careful look at whether other countries may be involved in fomenting this. We know the Russians years ago (INAUDIBLE) on this very issue using social media. So I'd look overseas as well, whether there are people who are fanning the flames to try to create disorder here in the United States.

BLITZER: All right. Let me get Cornell to weigh in. Go ahead, Cornell.

BROOKS: Let's be clear about this. Having -- participating in marches and demonstrations around the country, including in Minneapolis, after Jamar Clarke and Philando Castile was killed. It appeared then and it appears now that we have people coming from outside the community looking to foment chaos, anarchy and violence.

The issue is not left or right, outside provocateurs, but right and wrong. And it is wrong to attempt to burn, to loot, to commit acts of arson in other people's communities or any community.

And I want to be clear about this, Wolf, in Minneapolis, on a street corner where I stood, literally two white nationalists came in from outside, shot five people within 24 hours of my standing there. This is a real issue. But let's be clear about this, let's not tar the whole and the many peaceful protesters with terms like terrorists.

The fact of the matter is these Americans who are hitting the streets, who are standing up for George Floyd and for other victims of police brutality, stand in the lineage with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and Medgar Evers. And so they are doing what the Constitution allows them to do and their conscience compels them to do. And so yes, there may be outside provocateurs, they should be focused upon, arrested, and prosecuted.

But the majority of Americans who are trying to bring about justice, they should be protected, honored, and supported.

BLITZER: Cornell William Brooks, Michael Chertoff, to both of you, thanks very much for joining us on this very, very tense day here in the United States.

So what does -- why does this all keep on happening here in the United States? And when will this end? Join CNN's Don Lemon for a very important conversation, "I Can't Breath: Black Men Living and Dying in America." That airs later tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:47:26]

BLITZER: So as thousands and thousands of protesters are filling the streets of cities across the United States. There's deep concern right now that this could also fuel the spread of the coronavirus. Black Americans already disproportionately affected by the pandemic, they find themselves at risk as they protest police killings of people of color.

The New York Governor Andrew Cuomo even urging protesters to wear a mask for everyone's safety. But so many of the demonstrators aren't wearing masks. And they're certainly not social distancing.

Dr. Vivek Murthy is joining us right now. He is the former U.S. surgeon general. The author of the book "Together." There you see the book jacket right there. "The Healing Power of Human Connection in the Sometimes Lonely World." Doctor Murthy, we heard Governor Cuomo say that people have the right

to protest, of course, but don't have the right to infect others. So how do we find a balance? Because there's serious concern right now that two, three, four weeks from now there could be a spike in coronavirus cases as a result of what's going on on the streets right now.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, thank you, Wolf. And it's good to be with you, although this is such a terribly sad time for our nation. You know, I think if you're black in America now, you are seeing insult added to injury from COVID-19. We already saw that this was affecting -- a virus that's affecting minority communities to a disproportionate extent.

Minorities being less likely to be tested but also much more likely to be infected and to die from this virus. And on top of that, to go through this tragic experience and to witness the horrific death and murder of George Floyd only adds insult to that injury. And it is not a surprise that people are demonstrating, that they're protesting the streets. I do worry about the risk of infection spreading in that setting. It's hard to keep social distance, to keep masks on during a protest, although we should certainly try to do that.

But I think it's also worth keeping in mind that there's a deeper impact here of what's going on, both with COVID and with the aftermath of George Floyd, which is that the trauma that's being visited upon our country by both these pandemics is profound and will have implications for our mental health. We know that when we look at other forms of trauma from hurricanes and tornadoes, for example, as well as disease outbreaks, we know that depression, anxiety, PTSD, and loneliness rise often afterwards.

We will see those consequences here, too. So we have to remember that the consequences of what's happening right now in America, not just to our physical health, our spiritual health, our emotional health, our mental health, and there will be a heavy price unfortunately to pay.

[13:50:07]

BLITZER: And as you point out correctly, communities of color are being disproportionately affected by the coronavirus outbreak. So this is a -- this can't be resolved overnight. This is going to take a while to change that imbalance, right?

MURTHY: It will. It will take some time but I think this is where it's important for us to ask, what's at the root of these concerns and how do we move forward? There's no question that we need serious policy changes in our country to help address these structural factors that make communities of color to be so much worse off when it comes to their fundamental health outcomes.

There's no question about the need to ensure greater access to healthcare for minority communities and to ensure that people get the same quality of care that everyone else gets. But I think we also have to realize that in moments like this, relationships matter as well and that when -- what we've seen is that when our relationship fray with each other, when our social relationships are weakened over time, that it turns out has profound impacts on our health.

It also impacts our performance in the workplace and school, and it impacts our ability to dialogue with each other and contributes to strife and polarization. If there was ever a time to focus on rebuilding relationships at a grassroots level, it is right now. Because without doing that, we don't change hearts and minds. Without changing hearts and minds, we can't support the institutional policy change that we need in this country. That means we need more leadership in America and that's something that we're sorely lacking.

BLITZER: Dr. Vivek Murthy, we're always grateful for your expertise. Thanks once again for joining us. We really appreciate it especially during this very, very difficult times.

MURTHY: Thank you. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. A truly remarkable moment in our country's history happening in the midst of all of this high above our planet. Two astronauts stepping into the International Space Station. A giant leap for our country's effort to explore space. That's ahead.

And also of course much more on the late-breaking developments. We'll be right back.

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[13:56:21]

BLITZER: We'll have much more on the protests around the United States coming up we've been witnessing now for the past few days, but right now I also want to take a moment to show you a truly extraordinary moment. This is the International Space Station.

We're only moments ago the SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule opened its hatch with the space station. The astronauts were then welcomed to the space station, which they'll call home for one to three months. A really historic time for our country's space program and SpaceX.

Here's what they had to say at the welcoming ceremony.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's obviously been our honor to be just a small part of this. We have to give credit to SpaceX, the commercial crew program, and of course NASA. It's great to get the United States back in the crew launch business, and we're just really glad to be onboard this magnificent complex.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we have some VIPs with us here and I'm sure they have questions that they'd like to ask you, but I have one of my own before I turn it over. And I just wanted to find out if you guys got any sleep on your way up there the last, I'd say, I guess 19 hours. Did you get any sleep?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I think a lot of folks in Hawthorne were asking the same question, sir, but we did get probably a good seven hours or so, opportunity for sleep, and I did succeed at sleep and Doug did as well. So -- the first night is always a little bit of a challenge, but the Dragon was a slick vehicle, and we had good air flow. And so we had an excellent, excellent evening, and just excited to be back in lower earth orbit again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amazing. Well, one of the people that is here with us today is Senator Ted Cruz and, of course, he's a huge advocate of America's space program, and he's been, you know, somebody who has helped us so much as we transition from one administration to the next administration, and the reason missions like this can have success is because of continuity of purpose, and Senator Ted Cruz was a leader on a bill called the American -- the NASA Transition Authorization Act, and because of that, we have had a lot of political support and we're very grateful for his leadership.

Senator Cruz, would you like to say a few words?

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): Well, congratulations, gentlemen. The eyes of the world are upon you, and everyone is proud of you. All of America is watching you and today and yesterday represent big, big days. We're looking at decades since we've had American astronauts launch an American ship from American soil.

And I can tell you, I sat with my wife and kids in our living room watching on TV yesterday and I suspect we did what just about everyone watching did, including both of you, which is held our breath as it took off. And we're glad to see you've landed safely. We're glad to see you've docked. And so let me ask you. That Dragon is an amazing vehicle. How did she handle?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It flew just like it was supposed to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And as you know, this is the first time a commercial spacecraft has taken an astronaut to the International Space Station. Yesterday's launch was the first time we've had a launch on American soil in nearly a decade. A thrilling moment in space history and the possible dawn of a new age in space travel.