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THE SITUATION ROOM
Thousands Protest In Nation's Capital; New York City Curfew; Thousands March Across America For Black Lives; New Details On National Guard Deployment In Washington D.C.; What Happens When You Mix Protests With A Pandemic? Aired 8-9p ET
Aired June 6, 2020 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This was a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. The sun is setting in the next few minutes across the East Coast. And for some across the country, yet another night of curfews.
But while police are on alert right now for the threat of new violent clashes, the story of this Saturday has been one of peace across America, even as demonstrators say they have not got the justice they demand.
New tonight, CNN confirms that George Floyd's brother, Philonas Floyd, will testify before Congress this week. The House Judiciary Committee is looking into police practices and law enforcement accountability. And accountability is what so many of these marchers are looking for.
They did so on the streets of Washington, D.C. today, demanding the attention of lawmakers and the respect of police officers after George Floyd's killing turned into a national flashpoint. It's a scene repeated this Saturday in Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed nearly 244 years ago. Thousands demanding to live free of undo harassment and violence at the hands of law enforcement.
The mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser, joined the peaceful protesters today in the newly dedicated Black Lives Matter Plaza. That's right near the White House and the church where President Trump held his photo op, after tear gas was launched against the crowds there on Monday.
And from sea to shining sea, demonstrators filled two of America's classic crossings, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. They want to shine a light on the injustices they say must end now as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
President Trump has responded today with no news conferences, no statements, no appearances of any kind, just a tweet with the words, law and order. Yet, in places like Atlanta, where six officers are now charged for brutality one week ago tonight, a moment of celebration at today's peaceful marches. Watch this.
A simple moment of dancing and happiness amid the sadness that fuels the drive for change in the United States. In the nation's capital, we've seen thousands protesting all day, and now into the evening as well.
Athena Jones is joining us. She's over there near Lafayette Square right across the street from the White House. Athena, so, what are you seeing right now?
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, I am at 16th and K. So, we're just a few blocks from the White House. Tom Jared is going to show you the scene behind me as people moving away from Black Lives Matter Plaza. But, as you mentioned, thousands and thousands of people taking to the street today in what has been a peaceful protest.
We spent so much time talking about some of the violence of the looting. This has been peaceful. This has been festive. This has been joyous. There have been hugely diverse crowd, black, white, young, old, members of the clergy.
There are people standing outside of St. John's Episcopal Church, that you mentioned earlier, where the president had his photo op Monday, clearing out the crowd with pepper spray and flash bangs. There was a priest from the National Cathedral saying, we want to be here as a show of hope. We want to reclaim this area in front of the church for the people.
There was another group of social workers saying, we're out here in case people are triggered by what -- by remembering all of the black names and faces that have been -- died at the hands of police or of vigil antes. For instance, the fence that's now blocking off the White House from the rest of the public has posters on it. There's a t-shirt that says, my body is not a target. There's a poster of several names and faces of people, from Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin, to Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who have died at the hands of police or of vigil antes.
And if you talk to folks, they're hopeful that some change will really -- will really happen. Some even have pointed to the fact that now four lawyer -- sorry. Four of the police officers in Minneapolis, all four of them are facing charges. So, they believe that this pressure is leading to results.
And so, they're being encouraged and feel encouraged to keep making their voices heard. And they want to -- they're encouraging people to get out and vote. They're talking about reforming police systems, so police departments across the country. So, a lot of folks out here. But I've got to tell you, Wolf, a very positive, hopeful atmosphere.
JONES: There's been dancing. There's been singing. And we haven't had any or seen a very strong police presence. There have been times police have blocked off streets. But we haven't seen any negative interaction. So, it's been a very positive day with a positive message -- Wolf.
BLITZER: A very large crowd as well. Athena, we'll get back to you. Thank you very much. Athena Jones reporting.
Let's go to the West Coast right now. Los Angeles, likewise, is seeing widespread demonstrations. Lucy Kafanov is on the scene for us. So, Lucy, what are you seeing? What are you hearing?
LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is just one of dozens of demonstrations across Los Angeles. We're on the steps of city hall. That's the courthouse behind me. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the crowd. And this was not even announced on social media. It goes to show just how spontaneous these protests are. Just how large they are, in terms of the number of turnout.
The atmosphere here has been peaceful. It's been passionate. The protesters spent about an hour marching around the streets of downtown Los Angeles chanting slogans. It was inspiring to see people come out on their balconies to clang pots and pans together to shout slogans in support of these demonstrators.
What's different today, and over the past few days, Wolf, as compared the chaos that we had seen on the streets of Los Angeles over the weekends. I'm going to ask our photographer to pan over to the steps of city hall. It's a very minimal police presence. We hardly see uniformed police officers on this street.
Now, last Tuesday, and over the weekend, you saw the National Guard lined up here. You saw police in riot gear lined up here. That is no longer something that we're seeing on the streets here. It's, in part, a reflection of just how peaceful these demonstrations have been. It is also, perhaps, a concerted effort on the part of the police and the city not to provoke the protests.
But very similar to what we've seen across the country. People are shouting slogans. They are asking folks to remember the names of George Floyd, Breonna Tylor, and the countless other Americans of color who have lost their lives at the hands of the police.
And what's different this time is you're also seeing a demand for a broader conversation. What is it about the United States in this moment of time that, sort of, potentially, values lives differently, depending on the person's skin color or socioeconomic status? That is something that you're hearing from the protesters. That's something that you're seeing in the signs. And that is part of the national conversation now as these protests continue -- Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Lucy Kafanov, we'll get back to you in Los Angeles. Thank you, from L.A.
Let's head to New York City right now. Demonstrations underway there as well, as they've been all week. Evan McMorris-Santoro is joining us from Manhattan. So, what's the latest where you are, Evan?
EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. I'm actually in Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, which was the staging area for large marches, peaceful marches throughout the day. Now, it's 8:07 in New York which means the curfew has been in place for seven minutes. And if you look around Grand Army Plaza, which you wouldn't realize that there were hundreds and maybe thousands of people here not that long ago.
As the protests -- they marched around Brooklyn and they came back to Grand Army Plaza. And at 7:30, we saw protesters with bull horns start to say, look, curfew is at 8:00. Start to go home safe. Go home safe. We see behind us, there are some interaction with police. But, really, there isn't very many -- very many people here. And all day long, this is, sort of, what we see, which is this, sort of, disorganized, organized process.
These are peaceful marches today, sometimes joyous marches along the line are people giving away water and food. And you ask them how that works, they say, look, I just show up and I bring water and food. But it's everywhere that you need it.
And when we get to the end of the march today, you saw protesters standing up and saying, look, we're going to obey curfew. Go home. Go home safe. And it's not like they're in charge of anything. They're just standing there and other protesters listen to them. So, look, this curfew is in place until Monday. But tonight, here in Brooklyn, people have headed home when the police wanted them to -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Is there any indication they might extends the curfew? It's after 8:00 now. The curfew, I take it, is in effect, so they're not going to extend it, I sense.
MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Well, right now, we don't know. That's still under discussion among city and state leaders about what to do about this curfew come Monday, when it's expected to be lifted. But for now, tonight and tomorrow, that 8:00 curfew is still in place. And, as I said tonight, really, a peaceful protest all day that dissipated before the curfew started -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the police presence where you are right now, I take it, minimal, right?
MCMORRIS-SANTORO: That's correct. There are police behind me that were here when curfew began. You can see there aren't that many of them there. There are a few protesters who are interacting with them. But we're not seeing any of the arrests and things that we had seen in previous nights when curfew fell.
MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Right now anyway, early in curfew, light -- it's still light out. We're not seeing any of the arrests and charging the crowds and things that we've seen. Mostly because there's no crowd here. People left.
BLITZER: Yes, which is smart, given the fact there's a curfew. All right, Evan, thank you very much. Evan McMorris-Santoro in Brooklyn for us. Meanwhile, a dozen days and nights of protest around the country, not just the big cities, but in many smaller communities as well. The death of George Floyd has clearly struck a national and maybe an international nerve as well.
But what's next? Marc Morial is the president of the National Urban League. He's the author of the new book, "The Gumbo Coalition, 10 Leadership Lessons That Help You Inspire, Unite And Achieve." Marc, thanks so much for joining us.
MARC MORIAL, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: And looking forward to reading the book. Clearly, there's a lot of passion about bringing change right now, but what does that look like from your perspective?
MORIAL: It looks like a number of things, Wolf. I actually had an opportunity to participate in the protests today in West Orange, New Jersey with my teenage daughter, who was very passionate and determined to attend the protests near where we live. And I was struck by the number of young people, the diversity of the crowd, the passion, the interest. And I think the determination to see this as a moment of change.
I think what the looks like is a concerted effort to bring about police reform, at the national level and at the local level. And at the national level, I think we'll -- you can expect to see a comprehensive police reform bill introduced in the House early this week. And I think that will be the first step at the federal level and the most significant step at the federal level in a long time to do police reform.
But it's also playing out at city halls all across the nation. You've seen the city of Minneapolis take a number of steps. In Houston, the mayor is appointing a citizen's commission or a citizen's task force to look at reforms in that police department. So, this is the watch. The watch word is we want police reform.
And I think behind that there's absolutely criminal justice reform. And even connected to that, there are economic reforms that we need. This is that moment. Wolf. These protests are spontaneous. They're organic. They're passionate. And I think we have to hear what people are saying and I hope people hear what people are saying. They want change.
BLITZER: Well, you're absolutely right, Marc. Because part of the power of what we're seeing on the streets of the United States right now is that there is no clear leadership. As you say, it's more organic. A lot of grass roots descent. But that means that there's no clear leader right now. There's a lot of different voices out there. So, who will determine the path forward?
MORIAL: You know, I really think the people were. I think we're in a different time. I think maybe we've looked to sort of a traditional organizing model where there's a leader. There's a structure. Social media has changed that. And, in fact, what you have is an orchestra. You know, an orchestra and a symphony of voices. And they're all saying the same thing. We want to reform police. We want to reform the criminal justice system. We want to turn the corner on institutional racism in America as it effects health, as it effects economics, as it effects education.
And I think there are many leaders in this movement. Many leaders who are voicing this movement of all generations and all backgrounds. And it's that which makes it different and that's what gives us, I think, Wolf, the type of power that I think is taking people by storm.
Look, I've gotten calls from New Zealand, Australia, Spain. People in those places wanting to do interviews. People protesting in Paris. This is a movement of global dimension. But its focus is really here in the United States. This long continuing of institutional racism and institutional racism and violence.
And the death of Mr. Floyd, the way we saw the death and how brutal it was in eight minutes, what, 23 or 43 seconds where he was asphyxiated on the street in front of our very eyes, has struck a nerve. Because I think what it says to some is, by the way, is that what you all have been talking about? And saying, yes, that's exactly what we've been talking about. That's exactly what many of our sons, and many of our men, and some of our daughters have been dealing with and for (INAUDIBLE.)
And now, it's an opportunity. We can't miss this opportunity to bring about some meaningful change. And police reform, I think, is in line first. We've got to reform police, at both the national and local levels.
MORIAL: There are a number of important measures and steps that can be taken by the Congress and they can do it now.
BLITZER: Yes, it's going to be really tough but there seems to be a growing passion, a growing excitement to do just that. Marc Morial, as usual, thank you so much for joining us.
MORIAL: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you. Good luck. We're going to continue to follow these nation-wide protests here in the United States. From Los Angeles, you're looking at live pictures coming in right now. To Atlanta, looking at live pictures there. Very large crowds. Peaceful protests on the streets right now.
Meantime, the attorney general of the United States, Bill Barr, adding some serious confusion to his role in clearing of those protesters outside of the White House earlier this week for that presidential photo op at the St. John's Church across the street from the White House. We have new details on what he's now saying. That's coming up. You're here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:20:00]
BLITZER: And happening now, protests growing, once again, outside the White House. The president was out of sight today. But throughout the week, he was pushing his law and order message. Many paid close attention to a Monday photo op, when the president posed with a bible outside St. John's Episcopal Church here in Washington, only minutes after authorities cleared protesters from the area. Multiple reports say the attorney general of the United States, William Barr, gave the order to push back protesters. But now, Barr is telling the Associated Press he didn't give that order.
CNN's Kristen Holmes is joining us now from the White House. Kristen, the attorney general clearly trying to distance himself amid the ongoing fallout. Update our viewers.
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. And this fallout is continuing, as you've said. I mean, just to remind our viewers of what they saw on Monday, was those live pictures of peaceful protesters outside of the White House, in Lafayette Park, getting aggressively removed by law enforcement. Who used a pepper balls and rubber bullets at a time, again, where these were peaceful protesters, so that President Trump could have a photo-op that you mentioned.
And there's a reason that Barr has to push back on that is that the White House put this squarely on the attorney general. A senior official said that President Trump didn't even know there was a plan to empty out the streets. That it was entirely Barr's decision.
Now, as you said, there is some pushback on that notion. In this interview, the attorney general saying that he didn't give the final word. And I want to read you what he said. He said that he would not be involved in giving tactical commands like that.
So, just to break it down, it does sound a little bit like splitting hairs, in terms of I them I wanted it done but I didn't tell them that they actually had to it. However, he's not the first person to try and distance himself from this. This has been a shifting of blame that we've seen since last week.
And, remember, the secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, originally said that he didn't even know where they were going. Of course, he went back and corrected that. Said he did know but he didn't know it was going to be a photo-op. But a lot of back lash to that event -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, another interesting development, Kristen, that's unfolding right now. We just learned Wichita State University -- Wichita State University Tech has disinvited Ivanka Trump from giving a commencement speech. Tell us why.
HOLMES: Right. So, this was really interesting and we've kind of had this unfold today. It turns out last Thursday, it was announced by Wichita State University Tech that Ivanka would be the virtual commencement speaker. And this is a place that she had gone and visited as part of a work program. And then, they received an enormous amount of backlash.
And here's why. I'm going to read you a note from the president's statement. He said, in light of the social justice issues brought forth by George Floyd's death, I understand and take responsibility that the timing of the announcement was insensitive. After that, she was then cancelled from giving that virtual commencement speech. So, clearly here, a reaction to the White House response on George Floyd's death.
Now, I do want to note she gave virtual commencement speech anyway. She released the speech that she was going to give. A senior administration official tells us that she reported it two weeks ago. But it should be noted that even though there was this pushback from the school, saying that there was all this criticism around the White House's response to George Floyd's death, the video did not mention Floyd at all.
And, again, the White House says it's because she did film this two weeks ago. But you have to think about the timing here and what's going on, as we see these thousands of protesters really across the country trying to come forward and insight some sort of change.
BLITZER: Kristen Holmes reporting from the White House for us. Kristen, thank you very much for that update.
Joining us now, our Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin. Jeffrey, so, there's this big contradiction you just heard from Kristen between what the attorney general now says, what officials at the White House had said earlier. What are your -- what are your thoughts?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: What is important to focus on, on this is that the answer to this question matters. Because here we had a situation where peaceful protesters in front of the White House where you -- as you well know since you covered the White House for many years, there are always protesters in front of the White House in Lafayette Park. And they were swept away in a violent way. In -- to allow the presidents to have this photo opportunity holding the bible by the church.
And there's a very simple question. Who gave the order? Who said they could do this? This was a disgrace. This was an outrage that these protesters were pushed aside for this photo opportunity. And now, it seems like no one has admitted to giving the order. The White House was pointing at Barr. Barr's pointing at the park police. Barr -- or saying it happened sort of organically.
TOOBIN: This is an important question and people are running from giving an answer.
BLITZER: I just want to point out, Jeffrey, that a Justice Department spokesperson says there's no contradiction between what Barr says now, what he said earlier in the week. Does that make sense to you?
TOOBIN: No, because the White House said Barr gave the order to clear Lafayette Park in advance of the photo opportunity. Barr is now saying, no, I didn't. He's saying, I gave general directions there should be a wider perimeter around the White House. But that's a very different thing than police sweeping through on the, you know, moments before the president walks through.
I mean, remember the scenario here. This wasn't just, you know, part of a general clearing of the area around the White House. This was the clearing of a path for the president and Barr, himself, as well as the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. They all walked through. So, someone gave that order. And we still don't know who it was.
BLITZER: And, remember, Barr walked over to Lafayette Park with a group of his aids and others, including a lot of security. From the White House. They crossed the Pennsylvania Avenue into Lafayette Park about half an hour before all of this unfolded. When, all of a sudden, the police went into that crowd to disburse the crowd, using tear gas and other equipment to get that crowd out of there. And then, a few minutes after that, after the area was cleared, the president walked across the street to have that photo op at St. John's Church.
And remember, also, the White House press secretary did, seemingly, confirm that Barr ordered law enforcement to clear the protesters, saying the attorney general, and I'm quoting now, "said that we needed to get going with moving the perimeter, he told the officers out there." So, I guess, from a legal standpoint, does the attorney general of the United States have the authority, the legal authority, to give an order like that?
TOOBIN: Oh, I think he certainly does. You know, there was a mix of local and federal troops outside the White House. But if the attorney general of the United States says, you know, in front of the White House, I want a path cleared. You know what's going to happen? A path is going to be cleared. And that's what happened.
Now, Barr is now saying in this interview with the Associated Press, I didn't do this. I gave a, sort of, general instruction earlier. It seems pretty unlikely that, as you point out, he walks out there, half an hour before this procession, in which he's a part, goes for the photo opportunity. But he says, I didn't give the order to clear the path. You know, we simply don't have an answer, or at least a consistent answer of who gave the order to do this really outrageous thing.
BLITZER: Yes, it was really, really ugly. We covered it live here on CNN, of course. All right, Jeffrey, thank you very much.
We're continuing to monitor the live pictures coming in from protests across the country right now. Take a look at this. We've got some pictures from Los Angeles. At this hour, a huge crowd gathered there. As we enter a 12th day of protest, what happens next? We'll ask an icon of the Civil Rights Movement here in the United States, the former mayor of Atlanta, Andrew Young. He'll speak to us when we come back.
[20:28:43] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: It's been a long time since we've seen these kinds of protests that are happening right now all across the United States. So, what is an icon of the Civil Rights Movement make of this historic moment?
The former Atlanta mayor, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Andrew Young, is joining us now. Ambassador Young, it's a pleasure to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks so much for joining us.
Why do you believe the death of George Floyd has sparked such widespread outrage and the enormous response we're seeing now?
ANDREW YOUNG, FORMER ATLANTA MAYOR: Well, one, it was visible. And we all had to watch it, and we added it on to the long list that you have listed just a few minutes ago. But we were also in the middle of a pandemic health wise. And so, everybody was at home doing nothing.
We have a financial crisis and then we have proposed another hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast, sometime Sunday night or Monday morning. We're going to have the crisis of our lives. And this is going to require tremendous leadership on the part of every mayor. We've been working with 95 mayors along the Mississippi. We've been talking to the Congress trying to get them to take seriously the climate change and the effects and impact that a storm would have. Normally, they don't start till August or so, but now it looks like come Sunday, we're going to see some trouble.
BLITZER: Yes, we're watching that very closely.
YOUNG: And we all that is coming at the same time. And I just hope that I like the spirit. The nation has never been in my lifetime as united around an issue. And I think that we are prepared but we've got to -- we will probably be facing the greatest crisis since the Second World War in the next two weeks.
BLITZER: Between the pandemic which has already killed what almost 110,000 Americans in three months alone and now all of this that's going on, the economic ramifications, of course, as well. Yes, go ahead.
YOUNG: Fortunately, we're blessed that this is peaceful. And we're blessed that the spirit of both the law enforcement community and the marches, all from one end to the other. We've had a sense of humor about it. As tragic as it is, we had -- we have not gotten, you know, gone crazy over it.
BLITZER: And we're showing our viewers, Ambassador Young. We're showing our viewers live pictures coming in from your city, Atlanta, where there's a lot of happy people, they're huge crowds, obviously, but they're dancing on the streets right now. YOUNG: Well, they're dancing and the New Orleans band going down the streets in New York. I think that the spirit of this protest has been a wonderful demonstration of the power of non-violent, peaceful protest.
BLITZER: So what do you think, Ambassador, is going to come out of these protests from your historic perspective? And you've been involved in the civil rights movement for a long, long time?
YOUNG: Yes. Well, what I think we're going to have to do is restructure the relationship between law enforcement and the community. It's long overdue. The law enforcement community is not an occupying army. They are fellow U.S. citizens and partners. We're going to have to move back into things like working with our children in midnight basketball, and developing personal relationships between children and in elementary school, so that the policeman becomes a friend, and he knows the community.
It's going to take a total re-education. And I think that we're starting in the right spirit, if we can keep that kind of leadership at the local, state, and national level, these are problems that we can't escape anymore. But we can't do anything about one of them.
I mean, you, you got to deal with a financial crisis, and you've got to deal with the health crisis, and you've got to deal with, you know, the police and community relations. But we're all on the same side. We're all in the same boat and I love the spirit of the -- that we see. And here in Atlanta, we had the policeman kneeling, taking a knee with the demonstrators, and they've been friendly and dancing in other places, and we've got to keep that spirit going.
BLITZER: Yes. Ambassador Young, as always, we're grateful to you for joining us. We're grateful for everything you've done for our country over these many, many years. Thanks so much for joining us.
YOUNG: Thank you. God bless you.
BLITZER: God bless you as well. Andrew Young, always a pleasure having him here on CNN.
And take a look. You're looking at live pictures coming in from Atlanta right now. They're dancing there. Also here in Washington, thousands of protesters have been filling the streets right near the White House. We're getting exclusive new details, meanwhile, about the National Guard's orders in the nation's capital that's coming up -- that are coming up this week. We'll share those details when we come back.
BLITZER: All right. Take a look at this. You're looking at live pictures coming in from Philadelphia. Right now, I see long lines of police officers there on the streets of Philadelphia. You see protesters. They're standing directly across from those police officers, unclear what exactly is going on. But we're going to monitor the standoff right now and see what happens next. These are live pictures coming in from Philadelphia courtesy of our affiliate, WPVI.
Meanwhile, we're getting some new exclusive details about the D.C. National Guard and their orders for this coming week. CNN's Ryan Browne is joining us from Downtown Washington, only a block or two away from the White House right now. Ryan, tell us what you've learned.
RYAN BROWNE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in an interview today at the National Guard headquarters here in D.C., the Commanding General of the D.C. National Guard, General -- Major General William Walker, said that some of the additional guard personnel that have been brought in in response to these protests, some fourth -- nearly 4,000 guardsmen from 11 states that were brought in to reinforce the D.C. National Guard, could be going home as soon as Monday due to the peaceful nature of the recent protests.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM WALKER, D.C. NATIONAL GUARD COMMANDING GENERAL: They'll be redeploying this week, probably as early as Monday.
BROWNE: Well, do you have a sense of how many? Is that all of them or just a portion of them?
WALKER: They will leave as the situation dictates.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWNE: Now the presence of those out-of-state National Guardsmen had been a major point of contention between the mayor of Washington D.C. and the Trump White House. The Trump White House saying the National Guard were necessary here to restore law and order. The D.C. mayor asking states to take them back to send those troops home. Now, it looks like the troops could be going home.
Now, the general also address the recent controversy involving the National Guard that took place Monday when military helicopters took low overflights over protesters. Some accuse those flights as being designed to get protesters off the streets to discourage them. The General said the incident was under investigation.
WALKER: I have a Joint Task Force Commander, a general that served under me. And so he had the aircraft in the air. I am not a pilot. So I don't know if that was the -- if they were too low. I don't know if they were too low. Here's what I can tell you. A full investigation is underway right now. And it's going to be thorough, it's going to be comprehensive.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWNE: Now, the general said he hopes that his forces will be almost the last line of resort when dealing with these processes that local law enforcement and others can deal with these things first, that the National Guard will purely play a supporting role. And he says that there's no need for active duty troops at this time. Wolf?
BLITZER: Ryan Browne on the streets of Washington, thanks for that update.
We're also monitoring the ongoing protests across the country this hour from Los Angeles to Atlanta, where our own Martin Savidge is joining us right now. Martin, so what's the scene there in Atlanta right now? We saw just a little while ago, a lot of people dancing and singing.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they still are. We've gone from the street protest to now what is a party in the street. But still, with the consciousness of what this is all about. You can dance and still chant Black Lives Matter. We've seen it. It's a diverse crowd. It's a crowd that is made up of all different people. Families are down here. A lot of the people I talked to, this is the first time they've come down to a protest, even though the protests have been going for nine days.
This time, last week when I was in this intersection, there was tear gas, there was tension, there were hundreds and hundreds of police and National Guard. There's no sign of police, no sign of the National Guard. And you can tell by the scene behind me here that the tension has gone away. But they still know why they are here. They're all here for the same reason. It's their streets tonight. Wolf?
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. Martin Savidge in Atlanta for us. A lot of happy folks. They're having a good time. They're protesting clearly at the same time.
Meanwhile, as we look at the pictures of protests across the country this weekend, we're also seeing scenes that have played out over the past 12 days, massive crowds in very close quarters, all amid a continuing coronavirus pandemic here in the United States. So what effect could these huge crowds have on the fight against the virus? We'll get an update when we come back.
BLITZER: Tonight, once again, we're seeing massive demonstrations across the country right now. This is the 12th night. People are taken to the streets. But amid these nationwide protests, we're still remember this in the midst of a deadly coronavirus pandemic.
Joining us now our medical analyst, Dr. James Phillips. He's a physician and assistant professor at George Washington University Hospital. You know, one thing we are seeing so many protesters, Dr. Phillips without masks, not necessarily engaging in social distancing. What steps should people be taking? We're still very much in the midst of this pandemic.
DR. JAMES PHILLIPS, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, on the flip side of that, I've actually seen a lot of protesters wearing a mask. So I want to give credit to the folks that are that are trying to protect themselves and trying to protect others who they're with. There certainly does need to be some better social distancing, which is really tough when you're in the middle of a demonstration like this.
I got reports today of some groups in the Washington D.C. area that were out, handing out PPE in the form of masks, some people that were exercising the First Amendment Rights to be out and demonstrate. And I think that that's something that we can all take a look at as citizens to try to facilitate people having their voice heard, while at the same time trying to protect them because it's a really difficult -- a difficult position to be and wanting to be heard in the setting of this pandemic.
BLITZER: As you know, the CDC director has encouraged protesters to get tested, Atlanta is even offering free testing tomorrow for protesters. Are there enough tests available, first of all?
PHILLIPS: That's a moving target, Wolf. That's a great question. I know that we have the capacity to test the people that we need to within our hospitals right now. Now, whether or not everybody needs to come out and get tested when they're asymptomatic, simply because they went to a demonstration, I think that's a bit of a stretch. We don't have the capacity for that, I'm certain.
However, if you have been to a protest or been around people who have been in public, in any form of large gathering, whether that's the decision to go back to church or to the grocery store or to a play date. If you're developing symptoms, you need to be isolated and tested, just as we've been saying for the last 12 weeks.
BLITZER: As you know, the Washington D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser, says that she hopes there isn't going to be a surge of new cases. Her city is -- has yet to fully reopen at this point. What do you think? What's your advice to the protesters who are out there? Obviously, a very important good cause peaceful protest to get some change here in this country. But what are you recommending that all these protesters do?
PHILLIPS: Well, I hope the mayor is right. And I'll be optimistic and hope that we don't see an immediate surge in the number of cases. I think we're all still holding our breath about the last holiday weekend. And in some places, we are seeing surges. We're seeing bed availability in hospitals decrease in places like Arizona and Montgomery last week, like we were talking about. And I know that here in D.C. we are concerned that our number of cases is increasing.
I do think we're going to see an increased number of cases from these outpourings of people into the streets. The question is, are the vulnerable populations out in the streets to where they may require hospitalization? I hope not. The majority of the crowds I've seen seem to be on the younger side. But they may also be taking the disease home to their loved ones if they do catch it.
So, you know, if you're -- if you're going to go out, you're going to go out to these rallies, make sure that you're protecting yourself the best way that you can, bring hand sanitizer, avoid touching, don't share drinks, but stay hydrated, and wear a mask if you can.
You know, even across the country, there's been physicians who have been out trying to make their voice heard on behalf of this. I was out yesterday admittedly wearing a mask amongst my colleagues wearing masks, so that we could make sure that we were showing our support, and people are going to be upset with that one way or another, that even those of us preaching against going out and being near other people do the safety issues. Yes, we were going out because we want to show our support.
So I think it's a very difficult situation for the people who are affected by this. And while we thought we were in the middle of a whirlwind with this pandemic, now you throw this sort of social unrest in the midst of it. It's just a very difficult and complex set of emotions and set of guidelines that we have to follow right now.
BLITZER: We're approaching two million confirmed cases in the United States and 110,000 confirmed deaths. Dr. James Phillips, thanks so much for that.
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