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THE SITUATION ROOM
Protests Erupt Across The U.S. Following Death Of George Floyd; Chicago Imposes Strict Policies After Night Of Violent Protests; C.A. Governor Newsom Declares State Of Emergency In Los Angeles County; Interview With Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch; Philadelphia Mayor Denounces What He Calls "Anarchists" For Looting. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired May 31, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Guys, you know, this is the first time a commercial space craft has taken astronauts to the International Space Station. Yesterday's launch was the first time we've got a launch on American soil in nearly a decade.
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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 they plea for calm and order.
The demonstrations, erupting overnight across America, started with protests in cities both large and small, and then turned violent at times. 13 states activating the National Guard. In fact, 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 in a white neighborhood and feel safe. I want to be able when a cop is 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: Today protesters and police face backlash for the growing violence of these demonstrations. The NYPD is investigating after this video showed a police SUV driving into a group of protesters after they threw objects at the vehicle.
And this is -- there is also, as you know, mounting economic frustration here in the United States at the same time. More than 40 million Americans facing unemployment because of the coronavirus pandemic. The disease has already taken the lives of more than 103,000 Americans and thousands more are expected to die in the weeks and months ahead.
It's but the latest issue disproportionately, by the way, affecting the African-American community.
Coming up in a few moments, I'll speak live with the former U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch about all of this.
But first, we have a team of our correspondents watching the protests unfold across the country.
Let's start in Chicago, the city that just announced strict new precautionary measures following a violent night of protests including lots of looting. Chicago is shutting down its central business district and initiating a curfew. Protesters smashed windows, vandalized storefronts on Saturday. Mayor Lori Lightfoot responded to those protests earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: I'm also hurt and angry that 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 on the ground for us in Chicago right now. So what more do we know about these new safety measures the mayor of the city are imposing?
RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Absolutely -- Wolf.
Some extraordinary steps that are being taken. But First, let's talk about the toll from last night. One person was killed involved in that protest. Six other shootings happened.
And now they're taking these steps here that you can see. They've moved in the massive sanitation trucks into this area to block the downtown and business districts in this area. There was massive looting around and as people in Chicago were starting to figure this out, these trucks are blocking the way into that area. And you can see the barricades that are here as well.
And a lot of these residents are just finding this out. So when they get to this area and try to get in here, they're being are surprised. In fact, they're telling people right now, you can see, instructing them how to get around this. But just beyond us down the street here, there was massive amounts of looting and it didn't stop just in certain pockets in the downtown district. It spread. In fact, we were told, and the mayor and the governor believe, there were coordinated efforts.
People driving U-Haul trucks that all of a sudden showed up outside of businesses and just started looting as police were trying to deal with all the crowds and people.
Beyond that, there were protesters who were also angry. They were here to speak about social justice. Something turned, something changed. I've talked about it before. We saw people going around town spray painting and breaking windows and brought objects to do this.
In fact some of the protesters became upset when some of those people injured them. We speak about the hundreds of arrests. There were even officers who were dragged yesterday and who were injured during all this. They set police cars on fire.
But that doesn't change the fact that some of the protesters have come back again. And they're going to be protesting throughout the day.
YOUNG: So through this area, this has been cleaned up for the most part. And we've been talking to people who have actually showed up early in the morning to start trying to help clean up businesses around this area.
But there's been a massive impact here. We're told the National Guard is coming this afternoon. The state police will be here. The Chicago Police Department will be here. They even said they did not use tear gas last night. They used pepper spray.
You put all that together and talk about the deadly effects of this protest that turned into a riot. That's what people want to try to avoid again today.
I want to stress the first four hours of the protest, very peaceful. After that, something changed.
BLITZER: Clearly something did change. Ryan Young -- be careful over there in Chicago. We'll talk with you later.
Meanwhile, there's also a state of emergency in effect in Los Angeles County right now in response to the unrest there.
CNN's Paul Vercammen is joins us from Los Angeles. So Paul -- what has happened? What do you see now and what are you bracing for?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf -- here's what we're seeing right now. Entire streets have been sealed off so the cleanup can begin after the looting. I am on Melrose Avenue -- a trendy shopping area not far from the Fairfax district and long after the very peaceful protests ended, way long after that nightfall we saw mass looting. You see right here Pearls -- this was one of those nail salon. And then over there, you see an absolute empty building burned out. That was one of these pop-up clothing boutiques. And it was extremely orchestrated when we saw looters with trash bags clearly targeting, for example, maybe an upscale sneakers store or that sort of thing.
So now as we look all the way down the block, this part of Melrose is sealed off. Police are guarding it. The fire department has been putting out hot spots.
We have seen something heartening today. And that is citizens coming out and cleaning up on their own, helping city works officials clean up. And I'd like to talk to you real quick. I see you with broom in hand.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just got here.
VERCAMMEN: What's your mind set when you see all this?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is crazy. I live a few blocks away. I work down West Hollywood. I drove the same street yesterday. I photographed this actual building at 6:30 p.m. All the glass was still there.
Then I saw on Twitter by 9:30, the windows have been blown out, it was on fire.
VERCAMMEN: This city has been torn apart. The nation is in pain. In agony after seeing what happened to George Floyd. How do you bring everyone together? What does this broom symbolize?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well the best parades come out of riots. You know? Change comes out of revolution. I don't really care so much about vandalization, debris, garbage. I care about change. I care about liberation. I care about the memory of George Floyd, of my black brothers and sisters who have been victimized for centuries.
So we'll grow out of this, for sure.
VERCAMMEN: Thank you so much for taking time out. Appreciate your sentiments.
Well, there you have it. Some people coming on down here, noticeably -- Wolf, you know, in pain. Agonizing, seeing what was happening here and -- it was really an interesting moment, because as I said, we were down not too far from here. We're hearing very, very thoughtful protesters expressing their opinions, and asking among other things that all four of the officers be charged, who they saw on that video connected to the death of George Floyd.
And they wanted more serious charges brought against the one officer who has been charged so far and somehow it just pivoted and then we saw this mass looting throughout the city of Los Angeles.
BLITZER: All right. Be careful over there as well. They're bracing for more of this in the hours ahead. Paul Vercammen on the scene for us L.A. As we watch these protests unfold we're also getting a new glimpse at the moments just before George Floyd's death at the hands of those four Minneapolis police officers, now former police officers.
This clip taken from a security camera appears to show police struggling with someone in their cruiser. You cannot see Floyd directly in this new video.
CNN's Omar Jimenez -- he's on the scene for us in Minneapolis right now. So Omar -- how might this new piece of evidence help in the formal investigation?
OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, at the very least -- Wolf, it's going to help provide context in this. When you look at everything we've seen so far in it, we, of course, first saw that cell phone video showing Floyd on the ground, under the knee of officer -- or former officer Derek Chauvin there.
We've also seen surveillance video from business across the street and we know there's body camera footage as all of these officers' body cameras were rolling though we haven't seen that just yet. All of that going into the investigations that re currently ongoing especially since we've only seen charges against one of these four officers involved. Derek Chauvin, facing third-degree murder and a manslaughter charge.
But the question is whether the other three are going to face charges. And no doubt this video will again help play into the context of examining how much they are culpable and what happened -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're seeing, Omar -- the city -- actually we're seeing the city, Omar -- prepare for another night of protests. We're looking at the governor there, Tim Walz. He made a statement on all of this just a little while ago.
So what else are you learning? That building behind you, specifically, it looks like it's been totally destroyed. Reminds me of war scenes I used to cover.
JIMENEZ: That's right -- Wolf. I mean, this sadly is not a scene that is uncommon here in parts of Minneapolis right now. And this kind of fits into a cycle that we've seen.
We've seen peaceful protests during the day by people trying to honor the memory of Floyd. Then in the nighttime they tend to devolve into violence at times and rioting and looting. And then in the morning, people seem to be cleaning up. These are people of the community volunteers and then also city agencies as well working to clean up the very neighborhoods that were sometime destroyed just the night prior.
Now, when you talk about what we saw last night -- it was very different than what we had seen previous nights. It was the strongest law enforcement presence and the most forceful we had seen law enforcement yet over the course of this week. And we heard from Governor Tim Walz earlier today talk about some of those efforts and stepping up what they felt they had to do. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOVERNOR TIM WALZ (D), MINNESOTA: I want to say thank you to all of the people of Minnesota who protected their neighbors, who took an unprecedented step last night of making sure they created the space that an unprecedented force of our neighbors and our public servants were able to come together. Execute the most complex public safety operation in state's history.
They did so in a professional manner. They did so without a single loss of life and minimal property damage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JIMENEZ: Now, as for what we were going to see tonight, that still remain a question right now. Likely a lot of the same tactics. The largest deployment of Minnesota National Guard in its history and also they say they identified high-level targets and places they felt likely would see protesters and rioters. They prioritized those and again, you'll see a curfew tonight at 8:00 p.m. -- Wolf. It just depends on how many will actually listen.
BLITZER: All right. Omar Jimenez on the ground for us in Minneapolis. Be careful over there as well. I tell all our reporters -- hard to believe I have to tell our reporters in major U.S. cities be careful about what's going on right now. But we're certainly worried about all of you. Thanks very much for your excellent reporting.
At a time when our nation needs to heal, President Trump is right now largely staying silent, at least today choosing not the to speak out on camera. But we are hearing from members of his White House team.
Listen to what the President's national security adviser told our Jake Tapper earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT O'BRIEN, WHITE HOUSE 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-American, Hispanic, Asian. They're working in the toughest neighborhoods. They've got the hardest jobs to do in this country. And I think amazing, great Americans and they're my heroes.
But you know what? There are some bad apples in there. And, you know, there are some bad cops that racist and there are cops that are 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)
BLITZER: I'm joined by the former U.S. attorney general under President Obama Loretta Lynch. Attorney general - thank you so much for joining us. Let me get your immediate reaction to the statement we just heard from the President's national security adviser Robert O'Brien.
LORETTA LYNCH, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, he's definitely addressing the issue of policing in America and trying to characterize the actions taken against Mr. Floyd as being fairly limited in scope.
Unfortunately, I think the reality is, the images of Mr. Floyd losing his life, the images of other officers acting in concert to take his life have become a referendum on policing in America.
And we can have the debate about how many officers have this mindset. But the reality, this is the image of policing now. And this is the issue that policing in America now has to deal with.
How do we relate? How does law enforcement relate to all of the citizens of this country and not just some of the citizens of this country?
BLITZER: Did you see a similar situation unfold during your years as U.S. Attorney General?
LYNCH: Well, certainly when we look back on those years and before, we saw several similarly tragic examples. Many also captured on cell phone videos that highlighted the different way in which different groups are policed in America.
What we did during that time period was address that issue head-on. You have to have community involvement in this. You have to have a community response as part of this.
LYNCH: We have sadly seen these images far too long. Far too many families have had to watch their loved ones lose their lives at the hands of law enforcement.
And whether it's limited or a large number of law enforcement officers who feel that way, that becomes the image of policing in America. And that's the reality that law enforcement now has to deal with. How do they, in fact, step back from this perception?
How do they step back from that image and work towards regaining the trust of citizens? And it's not just the images of Mr. Floyd losing his life but also law enforcement will be judged by the images that we are seeing as law enforcement reacts to stop (ph) peaceful protests and violent actions as well.
BLITZER: You were the leader of the U.S. Justice Department. I want you to react to what we heard the other day from Professor Cornell West of Harvard. He said, and I'm quoting here now, "The Black Lives Matter Movement emerged under a black president, black attorney general and black homeland security secretary and they couldn't deliver."
When you hear that -- you were the attorney general at that time. What's your reaction? LYNCH: Well, you know, I thank Professor West for raising these
issues. He's talking about trauma that is literally as old as our country. And he's talking about the Black Lives Matter Movement coming up in an environment that allowed that movement not only to exist but brought that movement to the table at the White House, at the Department of Justice, and sought to include activists and their voice in the discussions of how we deal with policing in America.
That was what the focus of the Obama administration was about. Certainly it was my focus as attorney general. Unfortunately, we have lost the voice of the community when it comes to community policing at this time.
Wolf -- this is an intrinsic problem. It is, as I mentioned, a problem as old as our country and it requires consistent, persistent effort not just to deal with the case about Mr. Floyd and the way he lost his life in front of his fellow Americans and his family but also the perceptions that law enforcement has of the minority community.
The fact that many members of the minority community do not feel safe when interacting with those who should be protecting and serving them. Those problems existed. They will exist. They have to be dealt with head-on but they also have to be dealt with in a continuous ongoing manner.
BLITZER: So sad that this issue still continues to plague all of us.
President Trump today tweeted this, Attorney General. The United States of America will be designating Antifa as a terrorist organization. Antifa, a far left group, it's a domestic organization.
As the former attorney general of the United States, what does that really mean? Designating a domestic organization as a terror organization?
LYNCH: Well, when it comes to designating any organization a terrorist organization, there are certain criteria they have to meet. And one of them is the perception that that group opposes government in some significant ways and then it leads to various law enforcement actions that you can take.
But I think rather than focusing on frankly the President's tweets, which I don't think are really going to be dispositive of anything in this situation, I think we should be focusing on what can the government do in this situation to get back into the business of bringing the community voice back into policing and working on these systemic issues.
We have had for years the ability to work with law enforcement, to look at whether or not there is a pattern or practice of unconstitutional behavior.
This administration has sadly turned away from that practice in the beginning of January of 2017. I think it's time to get back to that. I think it's time to strengthen that portion of the Department of Justice that does, in fact, bring community voices, activist voices, all voices to the table on this issue.
We will not solve this in the short term. We will not solve it even through the prosecution of the officers involved in Mr. Floyd losing his life. We will only solve it by having all voices at the table, by understanding and admitting, that yes, this is a problem in America, and that we have to be honest and open about it.
BLITZER: What would you like to hear right now at this really sensitive, delicate, very dangerous moment in American history? You see what's going on here in the United States, on the streets of major cities right now.
The coronavirus taking a toll of more than 103,000 Americans in only three months. 40 million Americans losing their jobs, filing for unemployment in the past ten weeks alone. What would you like to hear, Attorney General, from the President of the United States?
LYNCH: Well, whether it's from the President or any of our leaders, I think all Americans would like to hear a sense of empathy and connection and understanding that this is a moment of great pain and trauma in our country for so many people.
LYNCH: And as you noted, there is a myriad of issues that are weighing in to increase that pain and trauma. Every citizen deserves the right to be understood and represented by their government. That's what people are expecting to hear from all of our leaders at all levels.
BLITZER: The former secretary of homeland security, Jeh Johnson -- a man you worked with, you know well. I know well as well. He spoke about the message the President is sending while watching all of these protests in major American cities unfold. Listen to what he said on CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEH JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Messages like if there's looting there will be shooting is highly, highly counter- productive in this very, very tense circumstance.
A president who delivers like that, a message like that, is talking to only one segment of an audience when in situations like this a president' -- national leadership needs to be talking to everyone. Needs to be a voice for reason, for calm, to give legitimacy to those grievances that are real.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you agree with that assessment from Jeh Johnson?
LYNCH: I absolutely do. I absolutely do. I think it is extremely unfortunate and counter-productive to quote old racists in trying to deal with a problem that is so intrinsically tied to race. And I think that we have to focus on the larger issues that we are -- if we are to be one America with all of our different experiences and all of our different things that cause us pain, we have to have leadership at every level up and including the President that acknowledges that.
That acknowledges the pain, that acknowledges the trauma, that acknowledges that government has an important role to play in dealing with these issues and indeed has a responsibility. What we are seeing here now is a referendum on the police, yes.
But police in America really are the only face of government for so many people. So this really is a referendum on all of government and how connected people feel or don't feel to our government at this time. And whether or not they feel that we have a government that, in fact, views everyone in this country as worthy of support and worthy of respect and worthy of being alive.
BLITZER: Loretta Lynch was the attorney general of the United States during the Obama administration. Attorney General -- thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it very much especially during these very painful, difficult days. Thanks for joining us.
LYNCH: Thank you -- Wolf.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news just ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Protests and looting appear to erupt in Philadelphia. Take a look at this. You're looking at live pictures. We'll go live to Philadelphia when we come back.
BLITZER: To Philadelphia right now. Earlier in the day the mayor there denounced what he called anarchists for looting and he then imposed a curfew for tonight. But moments ago we saw major activity at one store in Philadelphia. You can see people climbing in and out of the windows of that store. They're carrying out goods.
Brian Todd is joining us on the phone right now. Brian -- these pictures are very disturbing. Tell us what's going on?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Wolf -- they're unfortunately getting -- there are dozens of people looting a store possibly A Real Deal E-store on Aramingo Avenue in the northern section of Philadelphia. People seen running out with some household goods. Some people carrying what appear to be suitcases full of goods out of that store.
We are told there is a police presence near there. I'm not clear what that is. We're actually trying to head there ourselves at the moment. We're not there yet. And that's what we know so far -- Wolf.
We were in the center city area just a short time ago where we saw a rally of people near -- right outside city hall that was peaceful as people were giving speeches and saying the names of young African- Americans who have died at the hands of police in recent years.
That was a couple hundred strong -- that gathering at city hall. That was peaceful.
So we're heading over now to see what we can see regarding the possible -- I mean the looting reports that we're getting in that northern section of Philadelphia -- Wolf. But it does appear that people have been, you know, again, taking advantage of some vulnerabilities in businesses here and we did get reports earlier this morning about people kind of sporadically in that center city area that got so bad yesterday and last night.
It's sporadic looting but kind of opportunists picking apart certain places, you know, little by little. So there could be some, you know, some windows of opportunity for people and they want to try to take advantage of it. The question is can police contain it? And we're going to try to find that out.
BLITZER: Yes. We see people running into that store and then emerging, carrying all sorts of goods from the store. I have no idea what they're carrying, but it looks like major, major looting going on there. I assume elsewhere as well.
It's been a rough several hours in Philadelphia, but it's not just Philadelphia, but in major cities around the United States. We're seeing similar images emerge -- very disturbing.
All right. Brian -- we'll check back with you very, very soon. Brian Todd reporting.
Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- anger also on the streets of New York City and leads to a wild scene there. An NYPD vehicle appears to drive right into a barrier blocking protesters.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Right now, police in New York City say there are scouring video footage to try to identify the demonstrators who were committing criminal acts and damaging property, this after hundreds of people were arrested and dozens of police officers were injured during a very chaotic night of demonstrations. At least three residents accused of attacking NYPD with Molotov cocktails. Nearly four dozen police vehicles damaged or destroyed last night.
CNN's Polo Sandoval is joining us from New York City right now. So what are you seeing, Polo? What are you bracing for?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the days are relatively quiet. In fact, not far from where I'm standing, there's a small group of demonstrating taking turns, peacefully sharing speeches. But it's really the evenings and the night that usually bring that frustration and also that fury that tends to boil over as we've seen not just across the country but here in New York.
The results are these fiery conflicts between some members of the crowd and police, and also some questions into some recent actions of members of the NYPD. According to local authorities here, they're now looking to these allegations that they were perhaps heavy-handed in their response during some of these recent demonstrations.
And the one that's really getting the attention of many here is one from yesterday in Brooklyn.
In the video, you can see an NYPD SUV essentially plowing into a crowd yesterday evening. We are learning more about what happened there. According to one NYPD official, there were bricks, bottles, eventually a flaming bag that was hurled at the vehicle, and that's when the officer inside put his foot on the gas.
And at same time, we're also hearing from the police commissioner, to use his words, described it more as a mob versus an actual protest, a mob that was trying to carry out an ambush, again, to use his words. But nonetheless, but what we are seeing here are serious questions being raised not just by the governor but by the mayor himself as to what exactly happened yesterday.
And what we have heard from authorities is that the concern here is that -- okay, good. I heard no sound, so that's why --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY, NY: I don't want to get in to you with 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 an extremely dangerous situation and the one thing they couldn't do was stay there.
So rather than me theorize, let's get to the facts of both the police investigation and the independent investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANDOVAL: Getting to those facts will be key, as we just heard from the mayor, and also as we heard from Governor Cuomo in the last hour or two, there will be that independent investigation that's being lodged, hopefully trying to determine what has to happen to try to keep things from escalating, Wolf.
Already we have seen dozens of people injured just here in New York alone and hundreds arrested as well.
BLITZER: Polo Sandoval in New York. All right, we'll stay in very close touch with you. I know it's going to get ugly as the hours continue based on what we've seen over these past few days. Thanks very much for your reporting.
Meanwhile, it's spreading, outside the U.S. embassy in London, protests in solidarity with Americans demonstrating against the death of George Floyd. Today's protests follows a large demonstration last night in the city's Trafalgar Square. CNN's Max Foster is in London for us. So, Max, what can you tell us about these protests not only happening in major American cities but now spreading to London and I'm told elsewhere in Europe as well?
MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes. We keep hearing about protests cropping up around Europe, here in London as well. They crop up around the city. And this is a typical example, really. So that imagery you just saw, we were caught up in the middle of it, it was about an hour ago. We are beneath Big Ben here and the Houses of Parliament.
And what you have is very energized, quite good-natured protests but then something happens, the police do something and it flares up. And you see a situation like you did there and someone is taken away and arrested. So, several arrests.
But what's extraordinary is the police response here, very, very organized. A huge amount of police came in, literally police outnumbering protests and closing it down very quickly. So they've moved on to another area of the city and we see the same thing happening.
And you're hearing the same chants, Wolf, that you're hearing across America and indeed Europe. So black lives matter, I can't breathe, and say his name as well. Keep hearing, say his name. They want to hear George's name said around London and the world and they're talking about similar sorts of cases that we've had in the U.K. here, frankly, the same issues you've got there.
BLITZER: Yes, it's certainly spreading. All right, Max Foster in London, thank you very much for that report.
And look at this, we've got some live pictures coming out of St. Paul, Minnesota right now, a peaceful demonstration over at the state capital. Public safety officials in Minnesota are hoping to keep the peace tonight and over the next few days.
But earlier, the commissioner, John Harrington, of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety said, and I'm quoting him now, police all came together to take a different approach to how we are going to keep the peace. He added, they work to identify, and I'm quoting him now, targets that we knew were of high value and high probability of attack.
Harrington went on to say he felt the curfew was used effectively. Officials hope tonight, they hope tonight, will be quieter.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Growing violence and frustration spreading across the United States. Police are struggling to keep the peace as protesters demand justice for George Floyd as mayors of cities across the country, both big and small, they are pleading for calm.
Joining us to discuss all of this now, CNN Commentator Van Jones and our Legal Analyst, Laura Coates. Laura, you're there. You're on the ground in Minneapolis right there, you grew up in St. Paul, you're now in Minneapolis, you used to live there as well, you know this area. Tell us, first of all, what you're seeing today, the emotions clearly very much on display?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The emotions are running high here, Wolf, not only because of the string of recent police-involved shootings culminating in the death of and killing of George Floyd but the community is in disbelief that it's happening here, that it's happening so frequently, but also that there is such a clear demarcation to many people in the community of the people who are protesting in response to what happened to George Floyd and what he symbolizes for so many people across the country and across this globe and what's happened to the devolution of the protests into protests and looting.
And what you're seeing here are people who are, on the one hand, reacting to the horrific tragedy and the other hand coming together saying we will not let the message be hijacked by anyone who is trying to distract for what the matter should be in terms of criminal justice, the prosecution of any officers who was involved in the killing of George Floyd, about an overall call for reform in the criminal justice system.
And what you are actually seeing here is that playing out. People who are physically coming out in the community, Wolf, right now, who are saying, this does not happen here, this destruction does not come from Minnesotans or people who believe in the ideological protests. And they're coming out of their accord. They're volunteering. They're showing up to clean up the rubble to put their city back together.
Notice I don't see a police presence who's aiding in that but I see everyday civilians out here right now taking the idea of not only figurative but literal justice in their own hands to try to get some semblance of the city that they know. But on and of itself, everyone is fighting for the same thing, which is for everyone to say his name.
And that used to be a phrase you'd say talking about making sure people were aware of who has been harmed by violence. But now, it's about saying his name to reorient the focus on the criminal prosecution.
And, in fact, we were talking to people earlier today. I talked to Jael, who is the Student Body President of the University of Minnesota, who wrote a really eloquent letter that was compelling to the University of Minnesota to say, listen, because of all the tension, not only in Minneapolis but pn the campus of the University of Minnesota, we would not like to have any tie to the Minneapolis Police Department. And here she is speaking a few hours ago about why it was this is so personal and why it resonates so strongly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAEL KARENDI, STUDENT BODY PRESIDENT, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: We're so used to the Minnesota nice or used to the idea that this is such a great place to live. And Governor Walz said something this morning and he stated all these points and that's really great for a white person.
So while this is a reality, I think, some Americans, or some Minnesotans who are white are coming to realize, this is a reality we have lived with, the passive/aggressive racism, the feelings of police, having police presence and not feeling safe. This is a world we have to operate in.
And sometimes you almost have to -- you get so exhausted or you get so tired that you try to ignore it, but then things like the murder of George Floyd happen or the murder of Jamar Clark of the murder of Philando Castile, and you can't ignore it anymore.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: And you're seeing that right now. That was Jael Karendi, who is the Student Body President of the University of Minnesota, which I'm an alum from the law school, speaking to her, seeing the passion of our young people, of our young change agents talking so eloquently and vociferously about what they wanted to see in this world and the community.
But you're actually seeing inaction. That exhaustion, ideologically is translating into physical labor, people really trying to, with their hands, rebuild, reform, reconstruct and refocus on a man named George Floyd.
BLITZER: Very interesting.
All right, stand by. I want to bring Van into this conversation as well. Van, today, we haven't heard from the president except for a couple tweets or so. But the president's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, earlier today here on CNN said that there is no systematic racism within the U.S. police forces. What's your response to that?
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the data from the federal government would tell you otherwise. Listen, we are in a tough situation. There are two possible futures very clear tracks. Right now, if we do not deal with this situation, we are headed towards civil unrest. By end of this summer, you could have 10 or 15 American cities on fire. There is no reason to go down that road.
The way off of that road is simple. Number one, Tom Walz was just mentioned, the governor. He needs to appoint Keith Ellison, the attorney general, trusted by the black community, trusted by people across the state to take over this case. This case is being mishandled at the local level. You do not give somebody a third degree murder charge. You've got to plead down from there. You've got to plead down to what, a traffic ticket? That's being mishandled. So, Tom, the governor there has a decision to make.
The FBI is already involved. They should make arrests as well to send a clear signal that the federal and the state government is not going to let this stand. And, lastly, there needs to be legislation, bipartisan legislation of the process that should start tomorrow to get police reform.
If you can show that the system is beginning to work, that the state is going to come in, the feds are coming in for justice and then you're going to change the laws, you can calm this down. But we are one more videotape away from cities going up in flames, that the level of frustration is so high.
And yet there is unity. Conservatives do not like what's going on when it comes to law enforcement getting out of control. Liberals don't like what's going on when it comes to the rioting and protesting. There is a consensus in the country against lawlessness, whether it's coming from the police or from the community.
You can bring people together. You can have real charges for these officers, and real reform right now. If we don't act immediately in the next several days, we're going to be on the other pathway and nobody is going to be able to get us off of that one.
BLITZER: Laura, speaking of video, there is some new video out today that shows the moments leading up to George Floyd's death. The clip, taken from a security camera, appears to show police struggling with something inside of their cruiser, though you never see Floyd directly in this new video. What could this new piece of potential evidence mean for this investigation?
COATES: Well, you know what, that new video footage would be relevant, for example, if they're evaluating this case in terms of whether Mr. Floyd was resisting arrest. But why that video is really probably the nominal level of importance here because recall the evidence from the medical examiner and the video footage we've already seen has been Mr. George Floyd laying on the ground, incapacitated with his handcuffs behind his back, and actually no longer responsive for over two minutes.
And so to the extent there is any argument that could have been raised or levied by the police officers for claims of self-defense or for claims try to lawfully respond to a resisting person being arrested, that really is belied by what you see in the videotape of him being non-responsive. And so the weight of the evidence, as we see it right now, does not seem elevate that any higher.
But I want to be clear. One of the things that I'm talking to members of the community about right now has been what Van Jones has been talking about, about what those charges mean. How does this impact? What does a third-degree murder charge, which says that somebody unintentionally killed somebody or they acted in a way that was not intended to kill but was acting with depraved heart as to have a conscious disregard for human life? People are wondering what this means.
And, unfortunately, we have not seen the expansive explanation. But as a prosecutor, what I do know is, oftentimes, you put forth a charge as a holding charge to be able to go up or down from there. And when you have the evidence coming in, as was the case actually recently in Minneapolis with the arrest and conviction of Mohamed Noor, a Somali- American officer who was convicted 12.5 years for killing a white Australian woman here in this city that has been touted by Hennepin County District Attorney Mike Freeman as an illustration of why the community should have faith.
It does really tone back about the racial dynamic of it. They actually increased the charge from third degree murder to second degree murder taking to account as the evidence led to show more intent. So it could be an instance where it starts as a holding charge in order to get the subpoenas out there, to get grand jury testimony, to get evidence and testimony in there. It could elevate.
But Van is right. The concern because of how people know what criminal justice looks like in America, especially when it's a black victim and an officer involved encounter, that that faith is on shaky ground. And you're seeing that shaky ground lead to the powder keg you're seeing all across the nation.
And there are communities like here in Minneapolis who are terrified that this will be what they are synonymous with, and in a world we're talking about all across the country. I mean, geography is one thing. But what this country will stand for is what everyone is looking toward now here's in the North Star State.
BLITZER: You know, Van, there seems to be some major mixed messages on who exactly is committing the violent acts during these protests. I want you to listen to this. Laura, listen as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This is being driven by Antifa. I don't even know if we want to call them leftists, whatever they are. They are militants who are coming and burning our cities and we're going to get to the bottom of it.
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It appears the violence is planned, organized and driven by anarchic and left extremist groups, far left extremist groups.
LT. GOV. PEGGY FLANAGAN (D-MN): There are detractors. There are white supremacists, there are anarchists --
KEITH ELLISON, MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL: What we also know that some evil elements are literally interfusing themselves with the protests to destroy and cause arson.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: So what do you make of this, Van? The various leaders blaming outside agitators ranging from white supremacists to Antifa, far left, far right, for inciting this violence?
JONES: Well, you know, they are all correct. There is a toxic mix and not just, frankly, in that city but across the country, where you do have these right-wing elements. If you look at the white supremacist websites and that kind of stuff, they are focused on this, they're targeted, they're coming in as agents provocateur trying to discredit the protests by adding to violence, adding arson.
You do have some left-wing anarchist elements that are also there, who are proud of what they're doing. They're not pretending to be something that they're not.
And then you also -- as always, you have just troublemakers and knuckleheads out there as well. And so in this mix, you know, you've got that element.
But what I want to point out, there are 40 million African-Americans in this country. It's a very large number. 99.9999 percent of us, heartbroken though we are, disgusted though we are, terrified though we are, are behaving non-violently, peacefully, we're on social media, we're calling our elected officials, we're trying to get something done and 0.00001 percent of people mixed with this other weird element are doing something that's bad.
Let's not take our eyes off the unifying goal of getting justice in this case and fixing the police system in America. Let's not let the rioters win by distracting us on either side.
BLITZER: All right. Van Jones, Laura Coates, we'll obviously continue this conversation, a very important conversation. Thanks very much.
And to our viewers, the conversation will also continue later tonight right here on CNN, Don Lemon hosts, I Can't Breathe, Black Men Living and Dying in America. That airs 8:00 P.M. Eastern.
We'll be right back.