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Major Protests Continue Nationwide; Peaceful Protesters Tear- Gassed Ahead of Trump Photo-Op. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 2, 2020 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me.

Let's go to Washington. "THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin with breaking news in our national lead.

Just moments ago, the governor of Minnesota announced a new investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department, saying the state's Department of Human Rights will launch civil rights investigations looking into the practices of the department for the last decade, after the killing of George Floyd, the unarmed black man, by a Minneapolis police officer just eight days ago.

In addition to that, right now, friends and family of Floyd are leading a march, a massive crowd, to City Hall in Houston, George Floyd's hometown, in honor of his memory.

It is another day of protest today, another day of a nation on edge. In Los Angeles, protests are under way, as curfews are set to begin shortly. And right now, protesters are already gathering outside the White House, at times chanting, "I can't breathe," George Floyd's last words.

This comes as President Trump once again is encouraging law enforcement to use aggressive tactics and calling for military action, saying New York City was lost to looters last night.

The president insisting he has no issue with peaceful protests, but that was assuredly not the case, at least in fact, if not rhetoric, hours ago in the nation's capital, when peaceful protesters last night gathering in Lafayette Park across from the White House were tear- gassed and brutally pushed back by shield-bearing law enforcement officers, deploying flashbangs and rubber bullets, peaceful protesters I again underline, all of which so President Trump could walk across the street and have his photo taken in front of St. John's Church holding a Bible, a book he did not open or read from.

In a moment, we're going to talk to a priest who was forced to flee from St. John's yesterday so President Trump could stage his photo-op.

But, first, let's go to CNN's Miguel Marquez, who's live for us in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Miguel, you're at a protest at the state capitol building. Tell us more.


There are 200 or 300 protesters. And I got to tell you, we are in a five minutes of silence right now. I'm going to show -- let me take this off.

I'm going to show you how big this crowd is. It is absolutely massive. Thousands and thousands of people have showed up. If the president thought his photo-op yesterday was going to have an effect, this is the result.



MARQUEZ (voice-over): Now eight days after the brutal killing of George Floyd, still no word on the fates of the other three officers involved in his death, who either helped hold him down or stood by watching him die.

KEITH ELLISON, MINNESOTA ATTORNEY GENERAL: I want to assure everybody that we are looking very carefully at holding everybody accountable who failed to do their duty.

MARQUEZ: As the country grapples with the searing pain of another innocent life ended by police action, protests turned violent in many places around the country Monday, some against police.

In Las Vegas, a police officer is on life support after being shot in the head during protests on the Strip. At least four police officers were shot in Saint Louis. Their injuries are believed to be non-life- threatening.

JOHN HAYDEN, ST. LOUIS METROPOLITAN POLICE CHIEF: some Coward fire shots at officers. And now we have four in the hospital. But, thankfully and thank God, they're alive. They're alive.

But what -- can we make some sense out of this?

MARQUEZ: And a graphic video coming out of the Bronx. An NYPD sergeant suffered serious injuries after looters in a black car hit him and took off. That officer survived.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: An attack on a police officer his attack on all of us, pure and simple.

MARQUEZ: That attack amid absolute chaos in the heart of Manhattan, the historic Macy's, site of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, ransacked, police overwhelmed by angry protesters and opportunistic looters, sparking this reaction from the governor.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): It was a disgrace.

MARQUEZ: An 11:00 p.m. curfew in the city that never sleeps considered too late by many. Today, the mayor changed it to 8:00 p.m.

DE BLASIO: We saw stuff last night that we will not accept. And we can fight back and we will fight back.

MARQUEZ: But this afternoon, a different scene, peaceful demonstrators marching in the Big Apple towards NYPD headquarters.

Also today, celebrities and activists using social media for Blackout Tuesday, posting blank black images to their profiles. But some activists say, while well-intentioned, hashtagging posts #BlackLivesMatters drowns out critical updates from people on the ground.


This young protester telling us, after decades of empty talk of change, this moment feels different.

RAYVEN KOHA-JALLAH, MINNEAPOLIS PROTESTER: For once, everybody's tired, and everybody's ready for change, white people, black people.

Out here, if you look, this is not just black people in this movement. We have white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Native. Everybody is sick of the racism within this system.


TAPPER: Miguel Marquez brought us that piece, but right now, where he is in St. Paul, they are having a moment of silence. So we are going to respect that.

Thank you so much for that report, Miguel Marquez.

Now let's go to New York City. The curfew in New York City is going to start earlier, at 8:00 p.m. tonight, than it did last night, which was 11:00 p.m.

That's, of course, after that night of chaos and looting unfolded yesterday, as detailed in Miguel's piece; 700 people were arrested in New York City last night, and at least six New York police officers were injured, looters smashing storefronts across Manhattan.

Governor Cuomo putting the blame on his fellow Democrat, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, and the NYPD. Cuomo saying that they failed to do their jobs.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): I am disappointed and outraged at what happened in New York City last night. The NYPD and the mayor did not do their job. The mayor underestimates the scope of the problem. And the police in

New York City were not effective at doing their job last night, period.

It was a disgrace.


TAPPER: Harsh words from Governor Cuomo.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is in New York.

And, Shimon, you have been walking with protesters since this afternoon. Tell us about what you're seeing, what the experience is like.

We lost Shimon. OK. We're having a difficulty hearing from Shimon. It's the perils of live television. We will go back to him when we get his audio back up.

This morning, President Trump was back at church, a Catholic Church this time, after condemnation and criticism after peacefully protesting American citizens were tear-gassed by law enforcement yesterday, so that the president could hold a photo-op in front of St. John's Episcopal Church.

Trump and his team have voiced concerns about how they are losing support amongst some Christian conservatives, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, including evangelicals and Catholics.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump visited another iconic church in D.C. today, while still facing fierce backlash for his trip to a historical church near the White House yesterday, after peaceful protesters were aggressively cleared from the streets using smoke, flashbangs and shields.

The president and first lady Melania Trump stood before a shrine honoring Pope John Paul II in a trip that the Catholic archbishop of Washington called "baffling and reprehensible."

Wilton Gregory said the facility was being "misused and manipulated" and asserted that the late pope "would not condone the use of tear gas or other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate protesters."

Trump has faced heavy criticism for his visit to St. John's Church, which police say protesters partially set on fire Sunday. But Trump, who rarely attend church services, did not go inside to tour the damage or stop to pray. Instead, he took photos outside and used a Bible as a prop.

QUESTION: Is that your Bible?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a Bible. COLLINS: Sources told CNN the president wanted to be seen outside the White House grounds because he was angered by reports that he had been rushed to an underground bunker during Friday's protest.

Today, a Justice Department official confirmed that Attorney General Bill Barr personally asked for the protesters to be pushed back on Monday. Washington's mayor called the use of force shameful.

MURIEL BOWSER (D), MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: I didn't see any provocation that would warrant the deployment of munitions.

COLLINS: Most Republicans have either defended the president or remained quiet. One exception is Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who said in a statement that: "While there is no right to write or throw rocks at police, I'm against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo-op that treats the word of God as a political prop."

Joe Biden accused the president of fanning the flames of hate and criticized him for posing with the Bible.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president held up the Bible at St. John's Church today. I just wish he opened it once in a while.

COLLINS: Ignoring the criticism, President Trump congratulated himself on Twitter today, saying: "D.C. had no problems last night, many arrests, overwhelming force, domination. Likewise, Minneapolis was great. Thank you, President Trump."



COLLINS: Now, Jake, after the president sent out that tweet, the attorney general, Bill Barr, put out a statement saying that it was much more calm in Washington last night.

And he said -- quote -- "There will be an even greater law enforcement resources and support in the region tonight."

And this comes as you are already seeing protesters gather as close as they can get to the White House, given that new barrier that they put up overnight.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us, thank you so much.

Let's go back to CNN' Shimon Prokupecz in New York City. We have his audio fixed.

And, Shimon, protests are under way right now. But there's been a lot of criticism of Mayor de Blasio and even the NYPD, most notably by Governor Cuomo, about the lawlessness yesterday.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there has been. As you can see here, very different from what we saw last night across Manhattan, across New York City, when looters just took over the city. At one point, there were, Jake, more looters on the street than anything else.

There was looters and police officers and journalists. The curfew did not seem to work. And so now, of course, the governor is not happy about what we saw.

Around us here today, as you can see, Jake, diverse crowd, people just marching. And it's become a march of people with different names of people who have died at the hands of police. You hear "Black Lives Matter" and people saying "No justice, no peace."

This has been peaceful. They have been allowed to walk and march through the streets.

The one -- and one thing I want to point out is, when you look around, there are no police officers around. And the police have allowed them to just march, a bit difference from what we saw last night.

And it's important to distinguish. The groups that we saw -- and there were groups, hundreds of them, in groups that were running around Manhattan, overwhelming the police. And the police just seemed surprised at what happened.

And so they were running free all across the city, breaking into stores. And they're criminals. Here today, what we're seeing are peaceful demonstrators, martyrs, who are expressing their feelings.


PROKUPECZ: And if you look around, there are no police -- Jake.

TAPPER: OK. Shimon Prokupecz in New York, and a New Yorker expressing himself, as a New Yorker is wont to do.

Coming up: They turned holy ground into a battleground -- those words from a priest tear-gassed moments before President Trump's church photo-op yesterday.

I'm going to talk to her next.

Plus, the new investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department, and protests happening now across the United States.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In Washington, D.C. this afternoon, protesters peacefully laid on the ground in Lafayette Park chanting "I can't breathe" in honor and memory of George Floyd. Those were his last words. Protesters near the White House met by lines of what appeared to be military officers separated by the crowds by a brand-new fence.

CNN's Alex Marquardt joins me now.

And, Alex, this seems a much more peaceful scene than what we saw yesterday in front of the White House when law enforcement, using gas and flash bangs and more cleared out that crowd.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a much more peaceful scene than yesterday evening, Jake. It was peaceful at that time as well. If the president hoped that crackdown on peaceful protesters would get them to stop protesting, well, he very simply was wrong.

Clearly, he is anticipating more unrest because we've seen this new fence going up, about eight feet high steel fencing around Lafayette Park. You can see the law enforcement forces are a bit more at ease because of the fencing that they have just put up but really the only effect appears to be spreading the protesters out rather than having them gathered right here in the middle.

And if anything, it has poured a bit of fuel on the fire. There is definitely a high -- there's a lot of tension out here. We've already seen a lot of people shaking these fences to express that anger.

But it is very peaceful for now, Jake. Those chants that we've heard throughout these protests, "Black Lives Matter" and the name of George Floyd. And, Jake, it was right here that that crackdown started yesterday evening in order for the president to then be able to walk across Lafayette Park and go right there to St. John's Church for that photo op, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Alex Marquardt, thanks so much.

In the park, just yesterday, as Alex note, yesterday, we saw protesters, peaceful protesters pushed back so that President Trump could have that photo-op in front of St. John's Episcopal Church.

Joining us now, Reverend Gini Gerbasi, who was caught up in that. She's the rector at St. John's Episcopal Church in Georgetown but was at St. John's in Lafayette Park yesterday to try to help support protesters.

Reverend, thanks so much for joining us.

What did you see on the ground, I guess you were on the patio of St. John's, because the armored law enforcement officers showed up with gas and flash bangs and the like?

REV. GINI GERBASI, RECTOR, ST. JOHN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF GEORGETOWN: So what I saw was a peaceful protest. And what I had seen all day was people using that space as really a respite, a place for prayer or to sit. There was some shade at one point.

And as we got around 6:15 or 6:30, what I began to see was the police that had previously been deep into Lafayette Park beginning to move toward H Street.

And out of the corner of my eye, because I was like helping wash people's eyes out from having gotten gas or pepper spray or something in them, I literally saw out of the corner of my eye police beginning to come up H Street on horseback.


And I at that point had gotten -- began to work with the Black Lives Matter sort of medical support volunteers. And we were, you know, handing out water and paper towels with eye wash on it and that sort of thing.

And increasingly, we began to see those little tracers of smoke and the sounds of explosions which I guess are those flash grenade things. And --

TAPPER: What was your reaction when law enforcement started to push in and people had to flee? I know some people complained about being hit with rubber bullets and the like. You had to flee too, right? Because of whether it was tear gas or some sort of gas with an irritant was bothering you as well.

GERBASI: So I was in complete -- completely stunned, really, because I never would have imagined that I would look up and literally see an entire line of police officers all in this heavy military gear, all black, and these shields, literally pushing and shoving and driving people off of the church patio. Like, I looked up and there they were.

And I was literally helping wipe away tears in people's eyes and tried to tend to them and help them on the grounds and suddenly, the police were pushing us back. And the people were dropping to the ground, afraid. And they were -- when they hear those flash sounds, they thought they were being shot. And people were running at us.

And literally at some point when I looked up and the police were so close, I had to just grab some things and run.

TAPPER: And what -- you said that holy ground was turned into a battleground yesterday, and ultimately, obviously, it was because President Trump wanted to stand in front of St. John's and hold up a bible. He didn't read from it, he didn't go in and pray as many presidents have, and I believe he has in the past. It was just for a photo op. And the White House then put out a video minutes later, essentially.


TAPPER: What was your response, that that's what this was all about, was so President Trump could stand in front of St. John's and hold a bible?

GERBASI: So I was already stunned and shocked and deeply, deeply offended that they had taken what had become holy ground and had been holy ground for 200 years and literally desecrated, turned it into not a metaphorical battleground, but a literal battleground with those officers and those heavily armed -- and just the aggression and the hostility.

And the innocent protesters, driving them off church property, for whatever reason, at the time I didn't even know why. That already desecrated that, already turned holy ground into a literal battleground. I could not believe, literally, what people were texting me as I was going back to my car, saying, is the president really there? And I could still hear the flash bangs and the people were texting me saying, he's walking across the park. I could not believe it.

I was saying, no, no, that must be sort of stock photos. No, I'm sure that's not happening. I couldn't believe it.

And when I realized that people had been hurt and terrified for a political stunt, I like -- offended hardly begins to describe how I feel. I feel -- it was a sacrilege for all people of all faiths, faiths that are grounded in peacefulness and loving, compassion, reconciliation, wholeness, healing, forgiveness. Peace, love, compassion.

And to push innocent people out, and people who, by the way, were protesting the violent treat -- the violent treatment by the government, was sickening. And to stand in front of a church and somehow claim that as his right and privilege and culture and holding the bible, was a sacrilege, an absolute sacrilege.


And I wouldn't make -- I'm not joking when I say I -- I would rather the president live by those words, those words of healing, wholeness, compassion, love, peace, generosity, care for those who have been marginalized. For him to turn that book into a prop, for him to turn that holy ground into a battleground, for him to turn that holy ground into a photo-op is a sacrilege. And by -- "offended" begins to describe how I feel about it. I feel heartbroken.

And the images of people running and crying and dropping to the ground because they thought police were shooting real bullets instead of rubber bullets was heart-wrenching. And yeah, I breathed in some of that, I was coughing, and my seminarian -- tears were streaming down her eyes as we were trying to rinse out people's eyes.

But why shouldn't I put up with that? Like that -- that is what a person of faith does, right? You show up. And you show up in service of peace, and my brothers and sisters who have been marginalized and killed and incarcerated and undereducated and underestimated and overlooked for generation upon generation.

And for that man to take that witness of presence and peacefulness and shoot tear gas or pepper spray or whatever those canisters were, and those little exploding things, and rubber bullets, and the show of force, was not the kind of faith I have.

TAPPER: Reverend Gini Gerbasi, thank you so much. We appreciate your time today and your candor.

GERBASI: Thank you. Thank you. Bless you. And you know I mean that.

TAPPER: God bless you as well.

Eight days after George Floyd's death, his family waits to hear if three other officers will face charges. But now, a new investigation has been launched. What that might mean.

Plus, a live look at protests under way now.

Stay with us.