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New York Mayor Says Protests Largely Peaceful with Earlier Curfew; Some Protesters Clash with Police Near White House; Minnesota Launches Civil Rights Probe of Minneapolis Police; Defense Official: Esper and Milley "Got Had" By Trump Regarding Church Photo-Op; Defense Secretary Mark Esper Defends the Use of National Guard to Quell Protests; Former Joint Chiefs of Staff "Sickened" to See Violence Used to Clear Path for Trump Church Visit. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired June 3, 2020 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


A different kind of night overnight. Largely peaceful protesters defying curfews across the country to demand justice following the death of George Floyd. Eight straight nights now of outrage, frustration, impatience for change, but notably less violence, fewer clashes with police, isolated pockets now of looting.

The president's threat of military action, uniformed military on the streets of American cities, still hanging over these protests.

HARLOW: Still there were hundreds arrested across the nation last night. On the same day George Floyd's family marched through the streets in his hometown of Houston, and just a remarkable moment, listen to George Floyd's 6-year-old daughter and her mother this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What was your dad like?


ROXIE WASHINGTON, MOTHER OF GEORGE FLOYD'S DAUGHTER: She didn't have to play with nobody else because Daddy was going to play with her all day long.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What do you want people to know?

G. FLOYD: That I miss him.


HARLOW: A civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department has now officially been opened. Let's begin this hour with Brynn Gingras. She joins us in New York.

And Brynn, as Jim said at the top, it really was quite a different night in New York.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, it was completely different than what we've seen in past nights. And Jim also said that there were isolated pockets of criminal activity. Well, that's what we saw. It wasn't as widespread. We did still see some.

I want to show you right here behind me. We're in the east village in New York City. You can see these guys are now boarding up this Starbucks because all of the windows were shattered overnight, and really this whole area got hit. The FedEx here also seeing some damage.

There was a big difference and part of that, likely, because of a lot of measures that were in place. We know about that 8:00 p.m. curfew that happened here in New York City. We also know there was a stronger police presence, more of them, also mounted police. We haven't seen that yet. We know that ride share programs, many that police believe looters were using to get into the city, those were disabled during the curfew hours.

Parts of this city, Manhattan specifically, roads were shut down. You couldn't get off the highway into New York City's Manhattan. So there are a lot of measures that really probably played a part in the tide that sort of turned. But again, as you see, there is still some work that needs to be done.

We know that curfew is going to go back into effect at 8:00 tonight. We still haven't heard if there is going to be these major changes in the police presence that we've seen before. But certainly we're waiting to hear about that.

And one more thing to note, we've been hearing about these tensions between the governor and the mayor. The governor is saying the presence of the police and the response really has been inexcusable over the past few days. Well, the mayor asked for an apology, we're learning from the chief of the department, Terrence Monahan, that the governor did give an apology, called the commissioner himself to apologize for the words that he said.

Now they would like him to say something again when he has his news conference about the coronavirus typically later this morning, so we'll wait to hear about that. But hopefully the tide has turned here in New York and we're going in a better direction for sure -- guys.

SCIUTTO: Brynn Gingras, thanks very much.

Let's go now to CNN's Boris Sanchez in Washington.

You know, Boris, living here, I have to say, to see military vehicles streaming down Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday was jarring. What is the latest on the ground? Where are those uniformed soldiers deployed and what difference did all this make? BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, I saw them

myself early this morning as I was walking to this area. There were hundreds of what appeared to be National Guard unloading from buses and getting into a hotel, not far from where we are right now.

This is just a block down from Lafayette Park outside the White House. A different configuration than in days past this morning. These officials are with local police, they're with the Bureau of Prisons. They are with, you know, Department of Justice, federal agents. So it's a collection of law enforcement officers that are basically keeping us away from that eight-foot fence that was installed to block protesters out of Lafayette Park.

There have only been a handful of demonstrators this morning. Last night was relatively peaceful when that curfew of 7:00 in D.C. came and went.


It was really closer to 1:00 a.m. where things got out of hand, with projectiles being launched at police. Demonstrators shaking that enormous eight-foot fence. Ultimately the response was pepper spray, pepper balls until the crowd dispersed, and this more heavy-handed approach is now at least in one aspect under investigation. The D.C. National Guard is looking into this use of a military helicopter, specifically one incident on Monday night, where it was flying at a very low altitude, using the air from its rotors to try to get protesters to head home.

As all of this is happening, the president sitting in the White House tweeting asking police to get tougher, seemingly unaware or at least not acknowledging that tough policing is what led us to this mess -- Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: Boris, thank you very much.

Let's go to Minnesota. Overnight, news that the state is launching civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. It will go back 10 years and they are looking at whether there has been systemic discriminatory practices with targeting people of color, Jim, within this police department.

SCIUTTO: That's right. George Floyd sadly was not the first incident involving police there. CNN's Omar Jimenez joins us now from Minneapolis.

Omar, you've done a good job in recent days of just noting how the protests there have become more and more peaceful over recent days, not just last night. What have you seen on the ground there, but also tell us about the local -- the latest developments in terms of the investigation?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. We've really seen a progression of the nature of the protests and the violence of the protests in some cases from when this first happened a little bit over a week ago to now, especially over the course of the past three days, the protests have been largely peaceful. And even while we have seen arrests, they have happened again in peace, which is what the family has requested and what state officials have wanted to see.

Now you mentioned a little bit about the state investigation that's coming down here. Let's remember why the protests are happening to begin with. It's not just what happened to George Floyd. It's also about trying to change the culture in policing in the long term. So we are seeing this investigation announced by the governor from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, a civil rights investigation into the Minneapolis Police department reviewing the policies and what has taken place there over the course of the past 10 years.

And, of course, policing the central issue in this George Floyd story. More than a week after the death, the pain is still as raw as ever for those that knew him best. We sat down with the mother of his 6-year- old daughter, his 6-year-old daughter, his friend Steven Jackson, and their attorney. And I asked simply, how do you explain to a 6-year-old how her father died, and here is some of what she had to say.


WASHINGTON: She was standing by the door, she said, mama, is something going on with my family? And I said, why you say that? She said because I hear them saying my dad's name on TV. She wanted to know how he died. And the only thing that I can tell her is he couldn't breathe.


JIMENEZ: And tomorrow begins a series of memorials starting here in Minneapolis and leading up to the funeral on Tuesday back in their hometown of Texas -- Poppy, Jim.

HARLOW: Wow. That little girl there pulling on her mother's, you know, hair, so innocent. Hard to watch. Omar, thanks a lot.

Let's discuss all of this, Elliot Williams is here, former federal prosecutor and former deputy assistant attorney general during the Obama administration. If we can just build on what Minnesota has done, and that is launching the civil rights investigation.

It will go back, Elliot, 10 years into the Minneapolis Police Department. But given the change in terms of consent decrees, just as Jeff Sessions, just before he was fired as attorney general, doesn't that limit any action that can be taken on a federal level if indeed they do find civil rights violations by the police department?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, again Minnesota can take action, but the federal government can't take action. Just -- you touched exactly on it. Jeff Sessions was not a big fan of what are called pattern and practice investigations. These kind of investigations into systemic abuses in a police department and phased the practice out.

Now they come in and out of favor across administrations. As you can imagine, the Obama administration was very much more fond of them. But, again, you know, I think the problem with Attorney General Sessions' approach is that they were guarded pattern practice investigations and investigations into systemic abuses as pointing the finger or wagging the finger at police.

HARLOW: Right.

WILLIAMS: When in reality, what we're talking about is a mediated settlement with a third party, and the public, and the police and the unions and everyone comes to the table and tries to stamp out these systemic abuses that plague police departments. So they're actually a good thing for everybody and make everybody safer including the police.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's an important point, too, because there's a lot of talk about, you know, yes, we support George Floyd, et cetera, but look at the changes that have been made by this administration to investigating patterns of this sort of thing.


I want to ask you about something else because this gets to a legal standard, which goes beyond this administration. Two issues here, one qualified immunity, which gives police officers some immunity in civil cases from being prosecuted for this kind of abuse, but also this principle that abuse needs to be clearly established, in other words a prior cop has to be found guilty to some degree before you can charge the next cop with that kind of abuse.

Can you explain how that plays out in the legal system here and how that can be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy?

WILLIAMS: Yes, and self-fulfilling prophecy is a great way to put it. So, OK, this legal term you just used, qualified immunity, basically is a doctrine that protects the actions of police officers. Now, to some extent if you're going to have police, you want them to have protections, like, use an example. If a policeman fishes a kid out of a well, you don't want his parents to come and sue the police officer for battery.

You know, there's some degree of space where police officers need to be able to do their jobs. The problem is that over the last 40 or 50 years the doctrine of qualified immunity really just seeks to protect police actions. And so as you touched on, Jim, what you need are two things, a use of force or use of excessive force, and this notion that the officer had broken some clearly established rule.

The problem with those words "clearly established" is that, number one, people rarely win these cases. Right? So you can't clearly have established law if no one has won in the past and, two, every case is unique. And so, you know, there isn't going to be a perfectly -- so take the George Floyd case. There isn't going to be a perfectly parallel case to this one where it exactly happened where an officer used this kind of choke hold in the same way with a person on the -- so it's just hard to win.

HARLOW: What would need to change that? Jim and I have been talking about this, you know, for the better part of a week now. This goes up to the Supreme Court obviously. What would you need to change that threshold in terms of qualified immunity?

WILLIAMS: I think of an example, one, the Supreme Court. So most of the law on qualified immunity is in the appellate courts right below the Supreme Court, which really sets the law for most of the nation. The Supreme Court would have to make a clear statement about shifting our notion of what kind of conduct will be permissible for police. So that's sort of the big one. But that's kind of like steering a sailboat or a sail barge. It was big, and you know, what you really need to do is just rethink policing and rethink things like body cameras and the way we're going to allow police and frankly allow police unions and, you know, officers and their -- this notion of the thin blue line and testimony, rethink all of that before talking about the Supreme Court.

SCIUTTO: Just very quickly, Elliot, because there is talk of legislation. Justin Amash, for instance, has raised the idea of legislation to address qualified immunity. Can legislation change that or does it have to -- is it really going to come from the highest court in the land? Just briefly.

WILLIAMS: Legislation can change anything that the Supreme Court does. That's the notion of separation of powers. And it's important to note that it's Justin Amash because what qualified immunity has done is unite the right and the left, like Justices Thomas and Sotomayor are on the same place on this. Justin Amash is a notable libertarian, that's where he is on this. And I think this is, like criminal justice reform, one of the places where in the next 10 years or so we're going to see more aggressive reforms happening. It's just inevitable.

SCIUTTO: OK. Well, watch at home, folks. Because it's in the courts where these decisions are made for a long-term and have effects for the long-term.

Elliot Williams, thanks very much. Good to have you on.

Still to come this hour, a senior Defense official tells CNN that the Defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff got, quote, "got had by the president," by being roped in to that photo-op at St. John's Church. We're going to have more on that coming right up.

HARLOW: Also, the chief of police in St. Paul, Minnesota, marched with protesters in his city yesterday, he will be here.

And athletes stepping up, using their platform and their voice for critical message. An NBA player who marched with protesters says, quote, "It's important for us to stay outraged." We'll speak with him.



POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Well, this morning, a senior defense official tells CNN Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley, quote, "got had" by the president. That official says they had no idea that they were being taken, walked across the street, led by the president --


HARLOW: There for a photo-op, Jim, at St. John's church on Monday. A photo-op that was made possible by the violent clearing of those peaceful protesters, right?

SCIUTTO: Yes, "got had", although that official would not put their name to that comment. Despite that, Secretary Esper is defending the use of the National Guard to help to quell protests which sometimes became violent, although, of course, you saw the use of force against peaceful protesters as well.

Joining us now to discuss all the CNN military analyst and retired Major General James Spider Marks. General Marks, so good to have you this morning because you have some personal experience here, having been involved in the response to the 1992 protests following the Rodney King beating, when uniformed military was used at the time.

I want to ask you, does it help to have uniform military on the streets, particularly a distinction between National Guards men and women who might be called up and not by local and state leaders versus active U.S. military, which the president has been calling for.

JAMES SPIDER MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, well, thank you, Jim, very much. And as we were just discussing before the shot, very troubling. I don't want to minimize it by saying it's crazy, but it's a very troubling time right now. Very reminiscent of personal experience as a kid back in '68, and certainly as an officer, senior officer in 1992 in L.A.


To your very specific question, the National Guard, all those soldiers are local, they come from the state, they have familiarity. They've got a sense of the ground, which is incredibly important to have. They also have the challenge because they're fully integrated into that community, there will be things they may not be able to do because they then have to take their uniform off and come back into that community as a member of that community, not somebody who is trying to assist law enforcement to achieve a level of, you know, reduction in criminality and reduction of violence.

When federal troops come in, when active duty forces come in, and in the case of Los Angeles, both Marines and U.S. Army forces, when they came together in Los Angeles, there was an immediate drop in terms of the violence that was occurring on the streets of L.A. I think it was a combination of two things. Number one is, there was great coordination between what the military brings and what local law enforcement brings is very complementary.

And what the military brings is this ability to reach back into national assets, greater capability, certainly they come with a much more capable force -- SCIUTTO: Right --

MARKS: On the ground in terms of --

SCIUTTO: And for peaceful protesters --

MARKS: Not --

SCIUTTO: National assets. I mean, I saw -- I saw strings of humvees driving down Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday. I just wonder about the risks involved when you put uniformed military in that context.

MARKS: Oh, sure, no, absolutely, Jim, I totally agree. The point I'm trying to make is, if it's peaceful, you don't need the force. The force is available behind a curtain, you don't need the force. In fact, military combat experience tells us in many cases -- we had great examples of where combat soldiers transitioning from one form of kinetic combat into another form of peace-making or peacekeeping where they took a knee.

The 101st soldiers in Najaf earlier in the war took a knee in front of a troubling situation, to demonstrate we come in peace, we want to de- escalate. That's mission one. Mission one is to try to de-escalate and side-by-side is self-protection. So, you're exactly correct. When it's peaceful protests, you walk in with a hand. And the military may not be necessary in those circumstances. I'm trying to draw the comparison between what I saw in '92 and what I'm seeing now.

SCIUTTO: I hear you.

HARLOW: General, I was struck by what the 17th Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Milley wrote in "The Atlantic" saying, he was sickened to see what he saw in terms of the president leading them across the street there for that photo-op. And that he's been hesitant to say anything about the president, but he said it's impossible to remain silent now and he writes, "even in the midst of the carnage that we're witnessing, we must endeavor to see American cities and towns as our homes and our neighborhoods."

They are not, quote, "battle spaces to be dominated and must never become so." That's an obvious reference to Defense Secretary Esper earlier this week, telling governors to dominate battle spaces in American cities. Your thoughts.

MARKS: You know, I totally agree with the former chairman. Look, when you become the Secretary of Defense, when you become the chairman, you are in a position not to "get had" as was described, rather inarticulately. You don't get ambushed when you're in that position. And you choose in this particular case or in any circumstance is this where I want to make a stand?

And in this particular case, with what we've seen, and the context over the course over the last week, that's where you make a stand, and you go -- you know, Mr. President, I got it, we got forces on the ground, I got it, I'll take my own time to go talk to the soldiers and make sure everything is fine, that's the role of the sec dep. I don't need to be a part of political display, which clearly this

was. Clearly this was. I get it. They could have raised the hand and said, no thank you. If they get ordered by the president, you're coming with me, that's when you make a stand. That's when you make a go or no decision, and you're willing -- to what you'll call as a young officer, well, "you bet your bars".

Am I going to take off the rank and say, boss, it's yours, this is not when I'm -- that's not why you called me up to do this job.

HARLOW: Yes, Major General Spider Marks, good to have you. Thanks so much.

MARKS: Thank you, Jim.

HARLOW: Amid these clashes between some police and some protesters around the country, also notable moments of unity, the Police Chief of St. Paul, Minnesota, marched with protesters in his city yesterday. And he's here next.



HARLOW: Just over the river from Minneapolis, 170 businesses in St. Paul, Minnesota, have been destroyed or looted since the death of George Floyd. Still, a striking moment as St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell marched alongside and with faith leaders and protesters in solidarity, passing several fire-ravaged buildings and looted businesses. He is back with me today. And, thank you for being here. We were -- we were really struck by your words last week when you were here about the responsibility of police in this country.

If we could just begin with what was going through your mind, we can show some more of these images, deciding to march with those protesting.

TODD AXTELL, POLICE CHIEF, SAINT PAUL, MINNESOTA: Thank you, Poppy, it was such a touching moment for me personally to be in solidarity with a lot of the pain that's occurring throughout our city and throughout this country. Now is our moment to move forward together, use this tragedy as an opportunity to do what's been needing to be done -- needed to be done for many years.