Return to Transcripts main page


Protests and Coronavirus; Investigation Announced Into Minneapolis Police Department; Houston Remembers George Floyd. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 2, 2020 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Right now, members of George Floyd's family are leading a march in Houston, Texas, including marchers on horseback.

Houston is where Floyd was raised and where his funeral is scheduled to take place next week.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live for us now in Houston.

Ed, what's the message you're hearing from demonstrators there?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, well, there is a great deal of passion, to say the least, in this crowd of people.

Thousands, Jake, have turned out to support George Floyd. Of course, this is his hometown. And this is where he spent many years of his life. And this is a march, where you have heard the chants of "No justice, no peace," "Justice on -- peace on the left, justice on the right."

That has been a theme that has carried out extensively throughout this. And this is a massive protest. As you see this protest winding its way and this march winding its way through the streets of downtown Houston, it's only about a mile-long march from the park where this started just a short while ago, and is ending at Dallas City Hall.

But this is a massive crowd of people who have turned out here in George Floyd's hometown -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ed Lavandera, thanks so much.

Breaking news now. The Minnesota governor has just announced a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. This comes, of course, after the death of George Floyd in police custody just eight days ago.

Let's bring in former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst Laura Coates.

Can you hear to us what exactly a civil rights investigation might include? LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It'll look at the patterns and policies and practices and perhaps procedures of the Minneapolis Police Department in Hennepin County to determine whether there is a systemic problem.

We heard from the national security adviser questioning whether this was a systemic problem. We have heard about things happening in other parts of the world and country as well. This will be an investigation, not a criminal liability criminal prosecution aspect, but about whether there has been some government- or department- sanctioned activity that has led to not just George Floyd's killing, but any other violations within the department that have gone unnoticed or have gone unheard up until now.

TAPPER: And if this investigation finds serious issues within the Police Department, what kinds of actions could be taken? Could anyone face charges?

COATES: Well, remember when we heard about consent decrees?


I know it's a topic that people forget about after, I know, I was talking to my colleague and yours as well, Poppy Harlow, and fellow Minnesota about this issue this morning, and the idea that, remember, before Jeff Sessions was fired, one of the last things he did was to write a memorandum to make these so-called consent decrees, agreements between a police department and a state or an entity to ensure that there will be changes, structural changes, to deter and prevent this sort of behavior, he made it that much harder at the federal level to have those, rolling back these consent decrees.

And so they don't often lead to, say, a criminal liability in those instances, but it can be a guide in Minnesota about how we can implement structural changes. Having said that, whatever information they derive or glean in the investigation about patterns, about practice, if the officers involved happened to overlap that investigation, it could surely be used as evidentiary support by, say, the prosecution.

And, remember, the attorney general in Minnesota, Keith Ellison, was one of the people who wrote a report back in February about police misconduct in Minnesota. And now he is overseeing this really quintessential misconduct case.

So I suspect there will be an overlap.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about that, because, as you know, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said his office is taking another look at the actions of every police officer who was on the scene when George Floyd was killed.

Ellison has previously said he expects all of the officers involved to face some sort of charges. If you're working in that office, what are you doing right now? COATES: I'm taking a fresh look at not only the investigation, the

video, eyewitnesses, any of the police records, text messages between the time that, say, the event occurred, the killing of George Floyd, and the arrest.

Was there any communication that would give me greater insight into what happened contextually? But I'm also looking at the actual charge. Remember, he has a third-degree murder charge in front of him. And in Minnesota, that means an unintentional killing, even though you acted with disregard to human life.

And normally that's something like driving down the wrong side of the highway or shooting a gun into a crowd of people. But Minnesota has a nuance, Jake, that says, hold on, if your focus was on one particular person, I can't reconcile the unintentional aspect of the law with the intentional deprivation of the heart, depraved indifference of the heart.

And so he will look at, what should be the charge? Is the lead charge the right one? Do we go up? Do we go down? And if we do these charges, who would have sort of accomplice liability, the other officers, and to what degree?

TAPPER: Well, as you note, I mean, the officer who had his knee directly on George Floyd's neck, Derek Chauvin, was charged last week, third-degree murder and manslaughter.

But video shows, obviously, there were three other officers there, including officers on top of Floyd, one other officer standing there watching.

Why would prosecutors be able to charge Chauvin so quickly, but not the others?

COATES: That's a good question.

And, of course, we also now have new video footage, as you remember, a few days ago of the other officers at some point adding to the compression by being on his body in some form or fashion. And you got these so-called competing medical examiner reports, one the official one, one from the private family, and discussion about how the compression, in addition to the kneeling on the neck, could have caused the actual killing of George Floyd.

So all of that increases the evidence and evidentiary burden here. Well, the thing is, although there is a police manual, Jake, that says there was a duty to intervene for other officers seeing a colleague engaged in excessive force, it's not yet codified in Minnesota.

The House, which is Democratic-run in Minnesota, has passed a provision to codify that duty to act intervene. It never passed the Senate in Minnesota. And so you have got this tension of what was the right thing to do according to a policy and procedure vs. whether there has truly been some violation.

However, I do expect that, if Ellison has already said that he has an eye towards prosecuting and charging those other officers and the medical examiner report and the video evidence supports, this may be a matter of simply being as comprehensive and meticulous as possible, having charged the lead defendant.

TAPPER: All right, Laura Coates, Minnesota's own, thank you so much. Appreciate your time and expertise, as always.

COATES: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Some curfews have already started in Los Angeles County. We're going to go live on the ground, as a large group gathers outside the L.A. police headquarters.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: There is a crowd protesters marching in Los Angeles, gathering near the police headquarters in L.A.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is there.

Stephanie, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti joined protesters moments ago. What did he have to say?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he came out this morning, Jake. And he took the time to come out and come out among the protesters. He knelt while he was out there.

He also said he was going to listen. He spoke, but it was really drowned out by a lot of the chants that were there, but the mayor coming out and saying and showing his solidarity for the movement, for the protesters here today.

And I can tell you that, today, this daytime protest has been very peaceful, very calm, lots of chanting, singing. We just met up with another group of marchers who are coming eastbound toward downtown. We started off at the police station.

Then we went around the corner to City Hall. They had a bit of a few speeches there and then marched down here, sort of towards the 110 Freeway and Staples.


And now we're heading back towards the police station now. But I have talked to a few people out here since we have been out here. Every single person I talk to, it was the first time that had ever been out for a protest, very first time.

And I asked them what did it. And for all of them, it was the video. It was the video of seeing George Floyd on the ground, pinned down for nearly nine minutes. And that was enough to cause them to respond and have to do something. One man I spoke to was very upset. He was holding a sign that said,

"Asians for black lives." And he was saying that he felt it was so important for him to be here, and that he had been dealing with this and donating to causes.

But even though he has respiratory concerns, he had a big mask on, but he was very much moved to be out here today, wanted to be out here today.

And so there's something about this that feels a little bit different, Jake, in the response and in the number of people and the kinds of people who are showing up here in downtown L.A. for these protests -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, let's hope they continue to stay peaceful.

Stephanie Elam, thanks so much.

The demonstrations across this nation are in response originally to police brutality, brutality witnessed when an officer pinned his knee down on the neck of George Floyd. And along with peaceful protests, of course, there has been violence.

At times, police have responded to both the peaceful protests and the violence with force of their own, heavily armed officers, members of the military in riot gear, deploying tear gas, other gases, rubber bullets, flashbangs.

And while there have been many powerful images of protesters coming together, protesters and cops coming together kneeling in unity, embracing, learning from one another, it's clear that so much more is needed to wipe around generations, if not centuries of mistrust.

I guess one question that we're all thinking about, is, is it time for a different approach?

Let's talk about it with Nikki Jones, professor of African-American studies at Cal Berkeley.

Professor, thanks so much for joining us.

So, we have this new video into CNN that I don't know if you have seen, but it appears to show Kansas City police this past weekend pepper-spraying and physically restraining a protester after he yelled -- that's all he was doing, was speaking, yelling that police overreact and use excessive force.

The protester was -- the policeman came and pepper-sprayed him, and then they took them into custody. A spokesman for the Kansas City Police Department said the officer's actions are now under investigation. Police said the man was arrested for protest-related charges. But they didn't specify what law he is accused of breaking.

This is just one example of the kinds of things we're seeing. Obviously, we see violence from some of the looters and protesters as well. But what's the impact when somebody who is merely speaking gets sprayed, pepper-sprayed, and arrested?

NIKKI JONES, PROFESSOR OF AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES, U.C. BERKELEY: You know, I just had a moment to take a look at the video.

And one of the things that struck me is that what we're seeing is the use of arbitrary actions on the part of officers or actions that are unrestrained. And when you have that arbitrariness and the lack of restraint on the part of officers, that makes any authority that they have illegitimate.

And that is the perception that people have when they witness something like that. And I also think immediately about the young people that I have worked with in the research that I have done, young people who grew up in neighborhoods where there's a constant police presence, and are very much aware of how arbitrary and unwarranted officers can act.

And so it's surprising and, I think, shocking for some segment of the population, those who are watching it or watched it during Ferguson, and have an understanding of it now, but it's not surprising for folks who have been the targets of these kinds of arbitrary and unwanted actions for years and years and years.

And so -- and both of those groups right now are out in the streets for those reasons. But it's a shocking video and it's also an example of something that scholars, critical race scholars doing this work have highlighted again and again and again, is that officers can be instigators of violence as well.

They can escalate the violence. And so it's another example of that. And so it's shocking, but, again, not surprising.

TAPPER: Yes, again, I just want to make sure, we're not talking about -- neither you nor I are talking about when somebody, a person, a civilian is violent, then police arresting the person for being violent.

We're talking about people who are not being violent. And I have to say, it does seem like this never-ending vicious cycle, an act of police brutality, and then you have protests in response. There's some violence by some in the crowd, or maybe not, and police overreact.

Either way, police crack down, on and on. It never stops. How do we stop it, Professor, though? We have to stop it.

N. JONES: Yes.

And I think that's a challenging question. And what I have heard that question posed over the last couple of days, there can sometimes be a fatigue that accompanies it, like, can we get this to stop already?

And I have to say that we have to have -- we have to get our stamina up a little bit. And we have to understand that this is a struggle with deeply rooted -- a deeply rooted struggle that people have been involved in for centuries, right?


And so it's not going to stop in five years. It's not going to stop in 10 years. And we have to think about the moment then as an opportunity, an opportunity to move a project forward, a racial justice project forward.

And that's what we have seen in the past, including since Ferguson and since Baltimore. We have seen change at the local level. We have seen the elimination of fines and fees. We have seen the progressive prosecutor movement.

We have seen efforts at decarceration. It doesn't make the news every day. But that did come out of that moment. And, of course, there's going to be retrenchment any time there's anything that looks like a victory, and that's what we have to expect, right?

And that is the struggle. And that's what we're dealing with here right now.

TAPPER: And the former police chief of -- former chief of police in Camden, New Jersey, Scott Thomson, which has a new approach to policing now, after centuries, or decades, at least, of issues between police and the black community, he told the news outlet FiveThirtyEight -- quote -- "There's this failed mind-set of, if we show force immediately, we will deter criminal activity, unruly activity, and show me where that's worked."

So, do you agree with him, the idea that meeting a protest, even one that's potentially violent or has some violent elements in it, meeting that with force actually, more often than not, escalates the violence, as opposed to lowering the temperature?

N. JONES: And so, if I'm understanding your correction -- your question correctly, you're asking that, if officers show force at the beginning, does that escalate the encounter, the potential of violence in protests?


N. JONES: And I would say, absolutely, because, once you're up here, there's not much room, right, to go. And it's harder to de-escalate, and you have to be very skilled at de-escalation.

And we see a lack of that in cases around the country, even though there's been a real effort to improve that training for officers.

So, what we see in those cases in the kind of warrior cop is an effort to get people to defer to the show of force on the part of officers, right, and to comply immediately, to not test the authority of officers.

And, absolutely, when you have officers coming out as if the people are the enemy, yes, that's the potential for escalation right there.

TAPPER: Professor Nikki Jones, thanks so much for your expertise. We really appreciate it. Coming up next: the coronavirus pandemic, why protests have made it even more difficult to get a coronavirus test.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead today: As protests continue to break out coast to coast, the U.S. is still battling, of course, a deadly pandemic.

The number of lives lost to the novel coronavirus now stands at more than 105,000 people in the U.S., the surgeon general today among those leaders expressing concern that all these mass gatherings will surely lead to a spike in new cases.

And with those demonstrations, a number of state and privately run testing sites have been forced to close, as CNN's Athena Jones reports for us now.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Another day of protests over police brutality, demonstrators in cities across the country, many packed closely together for hours, only some of them wearing masks, leading to growing concerns about the risk of new coronavirus outbreaks.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Keep in mind, during this moment, when you're going out to protest, we're still in the middle of the COVID pandemic.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY, NY: I'm very worried also that protests is leading to the potential of the spread of the coronavirus. And that is not a minor matter at this point.

A. JONES: The unrest forcing virus testing sites in several states to temporarily shut down. And as the reopening of the country gained steam, primaries in eight states and Washington, D.C., moving ahead today, with some form of mail-in voting allowed in all of them, providing the first glimpse of what elections could look like in the age of COVID-19.

Tuesday's primaries coming as new coronavirus cases are falling in 22 states, holding steady in seven, and rising in 21 states, among them, Texas and Arkansas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are still dealing with COVID-19 pandemic. It has not gone away with so much happening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until we get a handle on the current uptick in cases, we have to learn to manage our way through this crisis.

A. JONES: A new study published in "The Lancet" medical journal underscoring what health experts have been saying for months, physical distance and masks help to stop the spread.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no doubt at all that this is something that we should all be doing.

A. JONES: The most comprehensive study to date finding that staying at least three feet from other people reduces the chance of transmission from about 13 percent to just under 3 percent, while wearing a face mask reduces the risk of transmission from just over 17 percent to about 3 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Think twice before lifting social distancing measures. Social distancing remains our best strategy for containing the spread of the virus.

A. JONES: Meanwhile, the federal government reports that nearly a quarter of U.S. coronavirus deaths have been among nursing home residents, with about 60,000 COVID infections at nursing homes nationwide.


A. JONES: And there's more not-so-good news.

There have been a lot of questions about whether the warm summer months will help slow the spread of the virus. This is something the president has mentioned several times.

Well, the National Institutes of Health director saying today, that's unlikely -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Athena Jones, thanks so much.

We're continuing to follow protests and demonstrations under way across the country, from Los Angeles to Chicago and Washington, D.C., where curfews are about to begin shortly.

We're going to be covering it all on CNN.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.