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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Mayors Who Matter: A CNN Town Hall On Race And COVID-19. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired June 14, 2020 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: This is a CNN town hall event with four of the nation's top mayors, who matter more than ever in these extraordinary times.
I'm Laura Coates.
And our guests tonight, four African-American women leading four cities facing the crisis in America, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
They are each on the front lines of the two enormous struggles that Americans are facing right as we speak, racism and the coronavirus. And over the next hour, they will be taking questions from people all across the United States who are critically engaged in these important issues.
But, first, let's take a look at how each of these leaders have met this moment.
COATES (voice-over): Four U.S. mayors, four different cities, all dealing with a country in crisis.
MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER (D), DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Black lives matter. Black humanity matters.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: No justice!
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No peace!
COATES: Protests spread across the U.S. after the death of another black man at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: George Floyd!
MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D), CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: All my life, I have fought with every fiber of my being to survive in a world that was built to throw flaming roadblocks in our way.
MAYOR LONDON BREED (D), SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA: As mayor, it doesn't mean that I am immune from feeling the hurt and the pain. MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), ATLANTA, GEORGIA: It is going to be
incumbent upon all of us to be able to get together and articulate more than our anger.
COATES: The anger, according to activists, is over how police operate.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Shut it down!
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: No justice!
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No peace!
COATES: Propped up by a system that they say has devalued black lives for far too long.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hands up!
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Don't shoot!
BOWSER: There's a lot of distrust of police and the government. There are people who are craving to be heard.
BREED: Being sick and tired of being sick and tired.
LIGHTFOOT: It is so important that we follow through on the commitment for the investments in black and brown neighborhoods.
COATES: But this isn't the only crisis these mayors are facing. A pandemic is still very much alive in their cities, and mass gatherings like the protests we have seen over the past weeks may have dire consequences.
BOWSER: We don't know what the impact of these demonstrations will be on our COVID experience in D.C.
COATES: Black Americans are among the most affected by this disease.
BOTTOMS: People of color are getting hit harder.
LIGHTFOOT: There is no sugarcoating this. The numbers are going to get worse before they get better.
BREED: We took the step before any other cities to declare a state of emergency.
COATES: Four mayors all wading through uncharted waters.
BOTTOMS: There's something better on the other side of this for us, and there's something better on the other side of this for our children's children.
COATES: I can't tell you how excited I am to speak to each of you ladies tonight. I'm so intrigued by each of you. And it's very clear just how multifaceted each one of you is. And I
have a funny feeling that each one of us knows what it's like to be at times feeling powerless and knowing the importance of speaking truth to power.
But here you are, all each in a position of power. And I can't wait to hear you speak tonight to the nation.
So, thank you all for joining.
And, Mayor Bottoms, I would like to start with you.
You know, just this weekend, another incident captured on video of a black man dying at the hands of police, and it happened in your city of Atlanta, when Mr. Rayshard Brooks was killed just Friday night.
Now, the Atlanta police chief has resigned. The officer responsible, you know has been fired.
So, what are you saying to people right now who are shocked, who are angered, who are sick and tired of being sick and tired of seeing yet another police killing?
Before we have even had a chance to really catch our breath over what happened to people like George Floyd, here we are in the midst of another protest. What do you say to them?
BOTTOMS: Laura, this has -- this has been hard.
And it has really been difficult for me to put aside my own anger and sadness during this time and really be able to articulate what our communities need to hear, because the reality is, what can you say?
I have watched the body cam video. I watched it for 30 minutes. I watched the interaction with Mr. Brooks. And it broke my heart when he talked about his daughter's birthday party that he was planning for. This is not confrontational. This was a guy that you were rooting for.
And, even knowing the end, watching it, you're going, just let him go. Just let him go. Let him call somebody to pick him up.
And I think that's the challenge that we're all facing as leaders right now. People are looking to us to lead, but when these things continue to happen over and over again, we're asking ourselves the same questions. How do we lead during this time?
We had just convened an advisory committee, awaiting recommendations in two weeks on how we look at our use of force policies. And not even three days into this advisory committee, before I can even get a report...
BOTTOMS: ... we have a deadly shooting in Atlanta. And the only thing that I can call upon right now are the things that
we have called upon historically. And that's just this reminder that we will get to the other side of this, but, in the meantime, we got to keep pushing.
And it's -- I know it doesn't matter to the families, because their loved ones are gone, but just for them to understand that these deaths will not be in vain. There's a movement across this country, and it's changing all of our cities.
COATES: You know, when I saw you or heard you say that about rooting, it got me in my stomach.
And I saw every one of you mayors react to that notion of watching this and hoping for a different outcome, even knowing what was ahead.
And I want to turn to our first question.
It comes from Bre Gamble in Hampton, Georgia. And her former partner is Javier Ambler. Now, he died while being arrested in Austin, Texas, in March, not of this year, but last year. But the video of that arrest was just released last week.
I want to ask Mayor Bowser. Here's her question for you:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRE GAMBLE, FORMER PARTNER OF JAVIER AMBLER: He was not just the co- parent. He was also one of my best friends.
And now that he's gone due to police brutality, how will you make sure that these officers are held to the highest punishment possible for deaths, beatings and mistreatment of citizens, especially when it's racially motivated?
When will their positions be held in a higher standard than citizens when they commit these crimes?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Mayor Bowser?
BOWSER: Well, thanks for that question.
And I think certainly you and the viewer is talking about accountability. And what we have tried very hard in Washington, D.C., to do, as we have been reforming our police department over the last 18 years, is build in tools of accountability.
And, in 2015, for example, we outfitted all of our officers, all of our patrol officers with body-worn camera. And it's so important for accountability for the officers and for the public.
But it's also important that mayors, police chiefs also have tools to make sure, when there's police misconduct, when there is a fatal shooting, when there is a use of force, that we have, as mayors and police chiefs, the ability to quickly institute discipline for officers all the way up through firing.
And it's also very important that prosecution happens. And it's not the mayor's decision whether a officer is prosecuted. So, making sure that we're also holding our prosecuting offices responsible is important.
And, in D.C., we have an extra wrinkle in that, because those prosecutors are federal.
COATES: You know, I was one of those federal prosecutors in your own city. And so, when you're talking about accountability, I'm glad to hear about the holistic approach.
And, you know, Mayor Breed, if I can bring you in here, because I want this to be a conversation, I -- the public does not want you interviewed. We want to hear from each of you, in all of your dynamism, in this context. And each of you brings something so unique about your perspective.
And, Mayor Breed, you're somebody who has been consistently arguing for wraparound services, a holistic approach. It's never just been, right, about just a criminal prosecution in one instance.
BREED: Yes, it definitely isn't, because we know that there are a number of challenges, disproportionately, sadly, in this country historically that African-Americans have faced.
And we know that we see -- even in liberal San Francisco, in many cases, we see African-Americans who oftentimes are somehow the ones who are pulled over mostly by police officers here.
And so one of the things that I am pushing for now is to make sure that police are not responding to those calls that don't involve violence.
Why is it that, if someone is painting in front of their home or doing some sort of chalk drawing, that, all of a sudden, the police need to be involved? And, in many cases, when it's an African-American, things can escalate.
We have to hold our departments accountable, but also the bias training and the things that we do around hiring officers, we have to make sure that people who are racist, that people have -- who have problems with working with black people in some capacity or may have never been around a black person in their entire life, they should not be working in communities where they may engage with African- Americans, which could lead to some of the situations that we're seeing all over our country.
COATES: I mean, from San Francisco, where you don't have a large population compared to the population of African-Americans, but you certainly do have the same disparate treatment of communities of color.
But, Mayor Lightfoot, you have a far more sizable population of communities of color in Chicago.
What do you say to this issue of police accountability and what needs to be done?
LIGHTFOOT: Well, if I may, what I first want to do is, I want to acknowledge Ms. Gamble's pain. You can tell by her voice that she's still very much suffering and traumatized from the experience.
And I think one of the things that's most important in this moment is that we don't forget that there are real live people who have lost their lives as a result of police violence, and their families continue to live in that pain. And I want to make sure that we don't forget that.
I have spent some time over the last couple days, and including today, talking to people that I have gotten to know, surviving family members. And they're feeling a lot of re-trauma through this experience. They feel lost. They feel hopeless. They feel pained. And, in some instances, they feel voiceless.
And we need to make sure that, as we talk about these larger issues, that we never lose sight of the fact that someone has lost a loved one, and that person continues to feel that pain.
So, yes, we absolutely have to address this issue. The status quo is clearly failing. Even in cities like Chicago and others across the country where we have been working on reform issues for a number of years now, we have to accelerate the pace of that, and really give voice to the pain and the anguish that we're seeing out on the streets every single day.
People are sick of rhetoric. They're sick of talk. They want concrete action. And, as mayors, that's what we have got to do to make sure that we listen -- I think listening in this moment is critically important -- and that we act in a way that truly reflects the lived experience of the people in our communities that are suffering.
I listened to a minister's sermon recently, and we -- of course, talking about COVID-19, but he so poignantly said, we have been living with COVID-1619 for far too long, and we have got to cure the systemic racism that leaves all of us hurt and broken and too far behind, too many communities left out of the greatness of our cities, our states, and our countries, simply because of the color of their skin.
COATES: And, you know, you talk about the idea of making sure to acknowledge, these are human beings. They -- are not -- we talk about hashtag advocacy all the time, right, ladies? We talk about the idea of what it means to say somebody's name.
And, really, it needs to be a conscious reminder of all of the aspects of it, and what it means to the specific and the symbolic here.
I want to go -- speaking of listening, I want to go to our next question.
It's from Crystal Cornelius, who's an oil and gas analyst from Houston.
Mayor Bottoms, this one is for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CRYSTAL CORNELIUS, RESIDENT OF HOUSTON, TEXAS: On various occasions, we have had to call the police to our home to make reports of crimes against our property.
Upon arrival, and on more than one occasion, the white officers have asked my husband if he is on probation or parole.
While this isn't a physical assault, it is an assault on his character.
What do you really think will change this type of mentality among the people who are hired to protect all, not just the people who look like them?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Mayor Bottoms, what do you say to that?
BOTTOMS: Crystal, that's a great question.
And the interesting thing, I was reflecting today on an incident when my husband was detained for shoplifting. He was in a store browsing, had on a hoodie, and he was taken in the back...
BOTTOMS: ... as a suspected shoplifter. Absolutely.
And this happens to black and brown men each and every day, whether it's in their own front yard, or whether they are out in a retail store.
And what I would say, something we have done in Atlanta -- and up until Friday, I thought we were doing it right -- we have implicit bias training in this city. We require people to go to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. We have housing for our police officers in many of our communities in which they are serving in.
But yet and still it's not enough.
And so I don't think that we can out-train our way as a country out of where we are and how we view race and how we interact with each other. I think that, while we're doing it in our police departments, there's clearly a bigger conversation that has to be had across this country, because we are not in a post-racial society, and the biases are still there.
And to the extent that there's any silver lining in this movement that we're seeing across the country, it's the fact that we are openly having this conversation, because there are so many biases that people have that they don't recognize that they have.
And it's not just with our police officers. It's happening each and every day.
COATES: And that's such an important thought, because it's also not just an issue of white vs. black.
We see the bias across the board also in terms of it being a blue vs. others as well. And so I will hear more about that from you as well.
Stay with us. We will have more questions for these mayors after a very quick break.
We will ask about the protest movement that is sweeping American cities and how they have handled this extraordinary moment in history.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIGHTFOOT: And if we're angry, let's not shrink from that, but let's use our anger to get results.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): That message is to the American people, that black lives matter, black humanity matters, and we as a city raise that up as part of our values as a city.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: Welcome back to a special CNN town hall event, "Mayors Who Matter."
Now, we're talking about a unique moment in American history. There's a mass movement right now against racial injustice and police brutality. And I want to continue the conversation with the mayors who are here.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, you know, I gotta say, as you just saw, and we all saw, and we've all seen; the world can see now, you actually had the words "Black Lives Matter" painted along 16th, which is really the street leading up to the White House.
Now, the next day, activists painted "Defund the Police" right next to it. And you know that that slogan has become a bit of a rallying cry for some activists. And I've got a question about that for you from Louie Kahn, who is the president of the George Washington University College Democrats.
QUESTION: There is an emerging debate between those calling on police departments to be reformed and activists calling on police departments to be defunded, arguing that money would be better spent investing in social services in predominantly black and brown communities.
Where do you stand on this issue?
COATES: Mayor Bowser, where do you stand?
Mayor Bowser, are you -- are you hearing us?
Well, you know what, this is an interesting topic that I know each of you will want to weigh in on.
I know, in particular, Mayor Lightfoot, you have had significant thoughts and discussions about what it really means to defund the police, whether it's a matter of abolishing police departments or is it a matter of defunding or reallocating funding? What say you?
LIGHTFOOT: Well, when I hear this discussion that's really, I think, been important over the last couple weeks, a couple things are clear.
Number one, the status quo has failed everyone. But what I also hear is people in my city and, I think, across the country really feeling like it's way past time that we invest in black and brown communities, that we invest in a system that shrinks health care gaps, that we -- we invest in a system that eliminates life expectancy gaps, that we make sure that we've got good healthy food choices, jobs that can -- you can raise a family on, all the things that are -- have been absent from communities because we haven't spent the time and the energy and resources and focused on them.
That's what I'm hearing. And I agree with that 100 percent. That's why, from the very time that I took office, I talked about equity and inclusion and I backed it up with key investments, making sure that we were taking the burden off of people from fines and fees in my city. We committed $750 million in infrastructure and other improvements in 10 commercial districts in black and brown neighborhoods. We've made historic investments in mental health and affordable housing and other things of that sort.
We've got to do better to invest in communities, and we should not be investing here, investing there, based upon race or ethnicity, as unfortunately we have done for way too long.
So I agree with those who are saying much more investment has to be done in our communities.
COATES: But then again, Mayor Bottoms, we have...
BREED: And here in San Francisco...
COATES: Go ahead.
BREED: Here in San Francisco, I just wanted to add, that we took it a step further. We actually did make an announcement that we are going to reduce funding in the police department and redirect that money specifically to the African-American community.
And this does not necessarily mean -- I know we're talking about this movement "Defund the police." This does not necessarily mean we are going to completely defund the police department. It means that we need to look at ways in which we can reduce the amount of resources that we're providing to the department, redirect those funds to the African-American community in San Francisco for better outcomes.
And more importantly, as I had mentioned before, why are police officers responding to things that don't involve violence, that may not involve a need for an officer to respond in the first place; looking at things that we are purchasing that we no longer need in these specific departments, so making a real reform.
I think people want reform; they want changes. And I think part of those changes would also mean that there will be a reduction of what we spend on our departments in our cities.
COATES: But, you know, for example, Mayor Bottoms, or Mayor Bowser as well -- I know you're back with us, Mayor Bowser, and I'll turn to you on this issue.
BOWSER: Yes, thank you.
COATES: Is this a matter -- is this a matter of slogan and messaging, or do you feel that it's not just that people are getting the wrong message from not having a more nuanced conversation, or is it that, look, your budget, the way you have it, you don't think you're overfunding or defunding or underfunding in any way? What's your opinion?
BOWSER: Well, I think -- and I'm sorry that I didn't hear some of the conversation, but I know that you're talking about how we reform our departments and what types of investments we make in them.
And what I have said to our -- our city council, as well as residents across the district, that the budget I sent represents the amount of funding that we need for our police. But that's only one part of our public safety equation. Because police alone can't make neighborhoods safe.
And so I have had the privilege of being mayor the last five years, and what we've seen is our investments in education go up 40 percent. Our safety net services, in some case, when I look at my human services budgets and homelessness budgets, go up over 70 percent, health investments over 40 percent. And my MPD investments over that same course of time have only grown 12 percent.
So we have to look at our -- everything that we're investing in and make sure that we're investing in opportunity programs like education and job training but also intervention like our violence interrupters and mental health professionals in schools, and doing all of those things.
So public safety is more than policing. But policing is an important part of the equation, too. As long as we're investing in good community-based policing, that we have our officers trained and equipped, that we're training them in de-escalation techniques, and that they represent our city, attracting the best, the best, is very important to the work that we do.
COATES: So, Mayor Bottoms, I mean, do you feel the same way or do you have a different perspective?
BOTTOMS: Yeah, I think that it's very difficult for us to speak in slogans. So when you say "Defund the police," the solutions are so much more complicated than the slogan. I can appreciate the sentiment and where we are trying to get to. But I think you have to look at our budgets in its totality.
So, for example, in Atlanta, we -- we began almost two years ago looking at closing our city jail because we had ended our relationship with ICE during the family separation crisis. We were no longer accepting ICE detainees. We had eliminated cash bail bonds. So if you had $200 in your pocket to pay a traffic ticket, you could pay it and go home. If you didn't, you might stay in our jail up to six months. We ended cash bail bonds. So it gave us an opportunity to begin to reimagine and transform our city jail and take a look at how we were even allocating our corrections budget.
So while we haven't slashed our police budget because it's primarily salaries, worker's compensation, retirement, pensions, capital costs, et cetera, we have looked at our corrections staff and budget. And we have slashed that budget by almost 60 percent. So it gives us an opportunity to take some of our corrections staff and move them to our boots on the ground.
They're -- they are helping us feed our seniors. They are delivering meals to our kids. They're cleaning up our neighborhoods.
So we are already moving in that direction. But I think it is a great opportunity for people who are now interested in municipal budgets to really dig in deep and have some say-so but not just get stuck on this -- on this one area of defund the police but look at how we're spending all of our dollars.
COATES: Well, slogans, Mayor, are better than municipal budgets, I've got to tell you, in terms of the excitement factor...
... for a lot of people, about it. But, you know what, if this was all you all were dealing with, it would certainly be enough. But, as we know, the coronavirus pandemic is still gripping the nation, even as Americans are taking to the streets. And so the question we have is could the protests lead to new outbreaks?
I mean, we'll ask you mayors about your handling of the health crisis right after this break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BOTTOMS: It's a pandemic. And people of color are getting hit harder. It -- I am extremely concerned when we are seeing mass gatherings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COATES: This is actually a live look right now at Washington, D.C., where protesters have taken over part of a major thoroughfare, Interstate 395. People are kneeling, sitting on the ground, while cars are stopped.
Welcome back to our special town hall, "Mayors Who Matter."
The coronavirus pandemic still is killing hundreds of Americans every single day. And the disease is taking an especially heavy toll on black communities in U.S. cities.
I want to talk more about that with each of our mayors, beginning with Mayor Bowser.
As you were seeing, of course, that a major thoroughfare outside of Washington, D.C., is stopped. And this is in addition to fighting coronavirus pandemic. You're looking at a gathering of people largely unmasked. What do you think about this scenario?
BOWSER: Well, we have had more, now, than 10 days of demonstrations in Washington, D.C. People are coming from around the country and all over Washington, D.C., to voice their outrage at what's happening in our country, to be heard and to demand a change.
And we're used to peaceful demonstrations in our city and certainly we're going to support these peaceful demonstrations.
You're asking are we concerned that it would have an impact on the pandemic?
And obviously, we're very concerned about that. We've encouraged people to wear masks, to get tested if they need to get tested in D.C., or if they're traveling here to get tested at home.
But I think it's important, though, that we not just look to protests as a reason why we might be seeing spikes across the country. Because before these protests, we were seeing spikes. I think at least 14 states that reopened early, or that -- where we saw a lot of gatherings around Memorial Day, are reporting spikes.
So the reopening of America, in some cases early, has already generated increases in cases. So we can't only look to protests if we see, in a couple of weeks, more cases.
COATES: Well, you know, it strikes me, when I am listening to each of you mayors and I'm seeing what's happening, and we know of course COVID-19 affects the respiratory system. We know the impact it has on lungs. And you can't help but think about the backdrop of "I can't breathe" related protests.
And so, on the one hand, I'm sure each of you are questioning "Do I want to silence people on this important issue?" At what point does it take priority for you, Mayor Lightfoot, when you look at this and you see what's happening?
I mean, this is really stopping -- stopping the world in its tracks, but for a righteous reason. What do you think about this?
LIGHTFOOT: Look, all of us support the righteous civic outcry and first amendment protests, particularly given the events, the murder of George Floyd that really sparked this movement.
But we all have a responsibility as leaders in this pandemic to also exercise caution. And I am concerned about a surge and a spike based upon the number of people that have been in close proximity to each other, over and over and over again, the number of people who are not wearing masks.
It seems a little ironic to talk about hand hygiene in the middle of a protest. But we know that these things that we have practiced over 10 long weeks have what -- made sure that we have protected our cities and protected us from seeing a huge spike in deaths, a huge spike that would render our health care system unable to meet the challenge.
So, yes, as a mayor and somebody who has really spent a lot of time making sure that I understood the nuances of this public health crisis, I am concerned.
COATES: You know, it's -- it's difficult, Mayor Breed, when you think about the idea of peaceful protests and gathering and assembly, but then social distancing comes into play as well. It's difficult for people to wrap their minds around that.
But I have a question for you. I want to go to Bellwood, Illinois, Ami Relf. And her brother Reginald recently passed away from COVID-19. Now, he was actually turned away from urgent care, and he was only 50 years old, 50 years old, when he died. Mayor Breed, this is her question.
QUESTION: Decades of research show that blacks receive inferior medical care to white patients. Also, blacks are suspicious and skeptical of the medical field. Harriet Washington coined the term "medical apartheid" and even titled her book "Medical Apartheid."
What policies or programs have been implemented to build our trust and to ensure that we are not denied and shut out but believed and hurt and will ultimately receive quality health care. COATES: Mayor Breed?
BREED: First of all I'm so happy that -- so -- hurt to hear about her brother and the fact that he was turned away and didn't receive the healthcare that he deserved. Here in San Francisco, when we first issue a stay-at-home order, one of the first things we did was put together an equity team to focus on outreach in those communities that most likely were not going to get treatment, were not going to get access to testing, didn't have access to healthcare.
And so, we have a team of people under the Human Rights Commission here in San Francisco that went out every single day in various neighborhoods, in the Bay View Hunters Point, the Tenderloin and other locations to not only provide educational information in the appropriate languages who those who may not speak or read English.
But we also provided food and -- and -- resources for people financially who lost their job, who may not qualify for unemployment. So the work that we did from the very beginning centered around equity and making sure that people like Reginald (ph) had access to resources. And I'm sorry that in this particular case that the system failed him and we have to do better because unfortunately this is a real challenge all over the country.
Access to healthcare for especially African-Americans, disproportionately is a problem everywhere and that's really why when this pandemic hit, the work that we did was extraordinary. It was extraordinary because it was important to me as someone who grew up in public housing and poverty and know that when things like this occur, or a situation occurs, we're the last one to get resources. We're the last ones to get help and assistance. So that was the work that we did from day one here in San Francisco and it has had a tremendous impact on people's lives.
COATES: It's also the idea here --
LIGHTFOOT: If I could jump in --
COATES: Of course.
LIGHTFOOT: If I can jump in, like what happened in San Francisco and London's been an incredible leader throughout on a -- on a number of issues, but like what happened in San Francisco, we formed a racial equity rapid response team. And we really grounded that, again, in public health, in the science, but we also really invited community leaders to be hyper local to reach people where they were.
Look if we're honest, one of the things that we all fought against early on was black folks feeling like they couldn't get the virus. And so we spent a lot of time doing myth busting to really reach our African-American and our Latin communities who weren't connected up with a healthcare system, needed a different approach to help educate them and give them the tools that they needed to be connected up with healthcare.
And then of course, made sure that we were connecting them up with testing which was critically important. What I said to my team is, I don't want to build temporary scaffolding. I want to build a foundation on which we can then close these healthcare gaps, close the life expectancy gaps and do it in a way that, again, is reflecting the lived experience of people in our community which is unique.
And we had to go hyper local with trusted community partners and we've learned a tremendous amount from that experience which we are using everyday. But going forward to build a kind of infrastructure and support system that's really going to make a difference in these communities for years to come.
COATES: You know --
MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS, MAYOR OF ATLANTA: And Laura --
COATES: Go ahead.
BOTTOMS: Yes, I was just going to say you -- you know the interesting thing about our discussions about race and our discussions about COVID right now, what it's shown us is that in America we've been putting band-aids on gaping wounds. And so when you peel back the layers of COVID and you look at why black and brown communities are harder hit.
It's because of the underlying health conditions. It's because we don't have access to healthcare. When you peel back the layers on race, it's because we are pretending as a country that we are OK and we don't have a problem with race in this country when it's very clear that we do.
And so I -- I think it's going to be interesting to look back and see how history judges us in this moment but I can only hope that as leaders, and as people across this country that in the same way the Civil Rights Movement was a pivotal turning point in the history of this country. And how we dealt with these very prevalent issues that we'll be able to look back and say that we made a difference in this moment in time.
And just, over the last 24 hours, I've heard from each of these women who we are sitting with, speaking with today and I think people should know that there is an extraordinary network of elected leaders across this country. We may not always get it right but we certainly are trying.
I woke up to a phone call from Lori this morning talking about how we look at real police reform in our city. I received a text from London. I received one from Muriel and we're constantly comparing notes --
-- whether it be for COVID or how we're dealing with the unrest in our communities right now.
COATES: And there are even others beyond you who I know are a part of that -- that -- that really essential network but I want to get back. Just ahead, more with you, more with our "Mayors Who Matter". We're going to talk about some of that networking. Some of the unique challenges that you're all facing while governing as African-American women in this country. We'll be right back.
COATES: This is a special CNN Town Hall event. Mayor Who Matter. Welcome back and before I lament the fact that I'm not on the text message chat with any of you and I'm not bitter or anything. I know I'm not a mayor but I'm just saying, I would like to be a part of the chat. Let's get to some more questions instead.
COATES: Starting with a question for Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. Mayor Bowser, this one comes from Zita Andrus who's an attorney from Lake Charles, Louisiana. Take a listen.
QUESTION: How do you navigate your leadership roles as mayors along with the stereotypes that are often imposed on African-American women?
COATES: Mayor Bowser.
BOWSER: Well I think that's a great question and I think all of the women here will tell you that women in leadership are questioned more frequently. We're fervently and often more wrongly than our mayoral counterparts. But what we bring to leadership, often times are not just big ideas but a pragmatism to get things done and to really listen to our communities, use our best judgment and move forward together without all of the bravado and ego that sometimes comes in politics.
And, we get it, and especially right now in Washington, D.C. where we're in the belly of the beast, where we have to fight the Federal government so that we have full autonomy in our city. And I think the qualities that women leaders bring to the -- that type of engagement often times can settle down an argument.
Get to the meat of what our city needs and deal with it. So what I would just say to the viewer is, we just have to use all of our skills. We have to be smarter, work harder and -- and make sure that we're representing the views of our communities.
COATES: Bravado and ego. I can't -- can't imagine Washington, D.C. or anywhere else. What are you guys talking about? Is this only a new thing only for mayors? Let me think about that. Mayor Breed, you couldn't stop laughing. You couldn't contain it for a second when you heard that -- that question. What are you thinking?
BREED: Yes, and -- and what I -- what I think out of this, first of all I want to step back a moment and just really appreciate the fact that I am on CNN with these extraordinary mayors from all over the country, as well as you Laura and the work that you are all doing to really lead and to take care of people. Because that's what we are trying to do.
We're trying to take care of our constituencies. This is an extraordinary time and -- an extraordinary time for extraordinary leadership in the absence of Federal leadership. And what's happening in this country as you are seeing, mayors in particular, especially African-American mayors who are being called like never before because of what's happening around race in this country.
I have -- let me tell you. I grew up in public housing. I grew up in San Francisco, in poverty, raised by my grandmother. I've had family members killed by police here in San Francisco. Young people that I know that I care about. When this happened, it brought up a lot of pain and I think that even though we're mayors, I said I'm a mayor but I'm a black woman first. Because I have to remind people in San Francisco where the less than 6 percent of African-American population that I come from the struggles of African-Americans and that pain is rooted in who we are and we are finally seeing something extraordinary, something different.
And we want to make sure that this movement, that what we see around these protests, that it amounts to something different. And we are in a leadership position where we are doing everything we can to make change and we are excited about this moment. We want to see results as -- as -- because of this and I think yes. I -- I, as a black woman it's a lot different than probably anyone else when we are questioned about certain things or treated certain -- treated a certain way, called certain names that maybe a man's not called or what have you.
But we still roll up our sleeves and we do the work because that's what we care about. We brush it off our shoulders and we keep it moving because we've got people counting on us.
COATES: You don't have the luxury to compartmentalize. I only about two minutes but I definitely want to hear from both Mayor Lightfoot and of course Mayor Bottoms as well because you -- what do you think when you hear this Mayor Bottoms, in particular, when you know there's multifaceted women here. What do you think?
BOTTOMS: Well, what my mother always tells me, you only have to tell the truth once and I just try and bring the truth of who I am to the table. And what I know is that it -- it's all that it entails to be a black woman in America.
Sometimes it means I have to work harder. Sometimes it means that even in working harder, I've got to balance that with making sure that the lunch is packed and the kids have what they need for school. All of these things that I bring to the table but --
BOTTOMS: -- what I know is that when you're leading, not to be authentic is exhausting. And people don't elect us to be something that we're not. They elect us to be who we are and all that entails. And for me, it's a black woman and I wear that proudly and I own it each and every day.
COATES: Mayor Lightfoot. You have the last word. A few seconds.
LIGHTFOOT: Well, look, we're all black women and what that means is that on our life journeys up to this moment and going forward, there're always going to be roadblocks. There's always going to be hurdles. We're always going to be viewed and judged in a different lens. But we are here as leaders because we know how to get things done.
We do not let the critics in our head and count. What counts is the work, what counts is the leadership particularly in these difficult times. And I'm the most junior of the four of us but I love these women. They have been great to me. We are a sisterhood and we will continue to move forward in our cities because our people need us to be there and be present and we are.
COATES: Mayors, you most obviously matter. Thank you so much for joining us, each of you, tonight. I appreciate Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Mayor Muriel Bowser, Mayor London Breed and Mayor Lightfoot. Thank you so much and thanks to all of our viewers for watching. Stay with us for a CNN Special Report. "Bats: the Mystery Behind COVID-19." That's next.