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Wildfires Burn Largely Out Of Control Up And Down U.S. West Coast; Trump Administration Questioning Local Election Officials On Mail-In Ballots; All Students At Michigan State University Strongly Encouraged To Self-Quarantine Due To Coronavirus Outbreak On Campus; President Trump's Recorded Comments About Lethality And Communicability Of Coronavirus Draw Controversy; Companies Struggle To Obtain Minority Volunteers For Coronavirus Vaccine Trials; Russian Coronavirus Vaccine Enters Phase Three Trials; Families Purchase Land In Georgia To Build Pro-Black Community. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired September 12, 2020 - 14:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin with historic and devastating wildfires ripping through much of the west coast. At least 26 people have died in California, Oregon, and Washington state. This as thousands of first responders and support personnel are battling nearly 100 active large fires across the region. In California alone, more than 3 million acres have burned, and that's more than three percent of the entire state and twice the size of Delaware.

And to complicate matters even more, nearly the entire west coast is under air quality alert, prompting a new warning from health experts who say smoke from the wildfires can actually make people more susceptible to coronavirus and other infections.

And in just a few hours, President Trump will head to Reno, Nevada, for a campaign rally. Besides a tweet late last night, the president has largely remained silent on the fires, but now the White House says President Trump will visit California's McClellan Park in Sacramento County on Monday, where he will be briefed by emergency officials.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is in southern California, in Monrovia, California, where the massive Bobcat fire has grown to nearly 30,000 acres. So Paul, what can the president expect to see when he does visit your state?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, when he comes to California, he's going to see massive devastation up and down the state. You alluded to the fatalities, the number of acres burned, we understand it's 4,000 structures. He's also going to get a whiff of this unhealthy air throughout California. A COVID-19 mask is one thing, but we've gone to the heavier masks today because it's so brutal.

And off into those foothills, they're fighting the fire, but you can't really see what's going on right now because it's both obscured and they're back in those canyons. On this Bobcat fire that began to light some backfires, fight fire with fire, using the combination of diesel fuel and gasoline to try to cut off its advance and save very, very expensive homes in this area and throughout the foothills of Los Angeles.

And Governor Newsom has been strident about this. If he speaks to President Trump, I can assure you he will say we are in the middle of a climate emergency.


GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): Mother nature is physics, biology, and chemistry. She bats last and she bats 1,000. That's the reality we're facing, the smashmouth reality. This perfect storm, the debate is over around climate change. Just come to the state of California. Observe it with your own eyes. It's not an intellectual debate. It's not even debatable any longer what we are experiencing, the extreme droughts, the extreme atmospheric rivers, the extreme heat. Just think in the last few weeks alone we've experienced the hottest August in California history.


VERCAMMEN: And about those fires, 4,000 structures damaged in the latest swarm of wildfires in California. And the air, again, in Oregon the entire state now is under an air quality advisory. That's how bad the air is up and down the west coast. We've said this a lot, it seems, in the last week. The air quality in California is now much worse than the worst polluted cities in Asia, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Wow. And then, Paul, we heard an aircraft going by just at the top of your live shot. I wonder if you all got a look at it. Was that like an air drop for water cannons that would be dropped by firefighter teams? Or I would have thought that maybe the visibility was so bad that perhaps they wouldn't be able to do that.

VERCAMMEN: You're right. It's a factor. The visibility is horrific, and so some of the water dropping and fire retardant dropping has been compromised. That particular aircraft that came by was a sheriff's helicopter making observations, and sometimes they can help spot for those water dropping helicopters. We should note the reason the sheriff is patrolling so extensively is all up and down the foothills here, I'm talking about from Pasadena to burr Burbank, they are under an evacuation advisory or warning, Fred. So they're on pins and needles making sure they keep their eye on that fire.

WHITFIELD: This is such a terrible situation. Paul Vercammen, thank you so much. Be safe.

On to Nevada now where an unhealthy air quality alert has been issued for the same county where President Trump is holding a campaign rally later on today. CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar joining us now. So Allison, explain this air quality problem that persists there.

[14:04:59] ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's a dense smoke advisory. And, again, it just goes to show you the amount of smoke. This isn't a little bit of smoke here and there. It's very thick and it's very widespread. And that's why they have that advisory. And the smoke in Reno is actually coming from the fires in California, and then that western wind is blowing it into Nevada.

But, again, this is not the only state that's dealing with port air quality. California, Oregon, Washington, even Idaho, they all have those air quality alerts in place. And, again, for some of them it's the entire state. But even in the areas where it's not, again, it all comes back to these fires. You have nearly 100 large active wildfires across much of the western U.S. right now. And, again, what they desperately need at this point is rain. There is some on the way, but it does not start until Monday.

Now, another big breaking weather story to tell you about is we now have newly named tropical storm Sally. This is the system that's been making its way across Florida today bringing very heavy rain and gusty winds. Now it's entering into the Gulf of Mexico. And Fred, the concern is what does it do from there? It is expected to intensify and strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico before making its way somewhere between Louisiana and the Florida panhandle coast, Fred, likely to make landfall in one of those areas this upcoming week.

WHITFIELD: Wow. And so Sally, we're really going through the list of names pretty quickly.


WHITFIELD: And still have a couple months to go before hurricane season is over.

CHINCHAR: Technically three names is all that's left.

WHITFIELD: Wow. Thank you so much, Allison Chinchar, appreciate it.

In Oregon now, where 14 wildfires are burning, one family is dealing with unimaginable loss after trying to escape the flames. Thirteen- year-old Wyatt Tofte was found dead in a car holding his dog in his lap. His beloved grandmother also dying in the fire after attempts by Wyatt's mother, Angie, to save her family failed. Earlier I talked with Susan Vaslev, who is the aunt of Wyatt's father, Chris, and asked her how quickly this fire hit and the chaos that unleashed on her nephew's family.


SUSAN VASLEV, LOST FAMILY MEMBERS IN OREGON FIRE: Monday night there were high winds. Chris' power went out at their house, and he went to go get a generator. Now, while he was gone, the fire breaks out, and I don't think anybody understands how quickly a fire travels. Angie woke up, and there were flames around the house.

Her mother had just broken her leg a week before and was scheduled for surgery, so she was not very mobile at all. She got her into the car, then went back to get Wyatt and the pets. And by that time the car was surrounded in flames. And she knew the only way for her son to survive was to run. So she told Wyatt and the dog to run.

And we don't know exactly what happened, but Wyatt ended up going back to the car and tried to drive his grandmother out. And so he attempted to drive that car, and the roads were so hot that it burnt up the tires, and so he wasn't able to drive it to safety, did not make it out of the fire. And during all of this, his father is trying to get back. And now the roads have been blocked. So he's waiting for the blockade. He can't get through. He ends up somehow finding a way to go around the blockade or go through it.

And he gets up there and he's driving up and it's black. He can't see anything. He runs across one guy on the road, and he was trying to help him, I believe. His skin came off in his hands is what I heard from my brother. And then he went up to their house and -- well, he didn't get as far as their house. He kept driving and he saw a woman laying in the road that looked like she was wearing a bikini.

And he stopped to help her. He felt the woman was fighting him some, and he got her into the car. And she was burned all over on her feet, burnt down to the bone. But he said to her, I have to keep going because my son and my wife, I have to get to them. And her mouth is all black. She couldn't talk, but either she whispered or she scribbled "I am your wife".

WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh.



WHITFIELD: Boy, tragedy hitting that family. And now family and friends of the Toftes have set up a GoFundMe page. They're trying to raise money to help this family with the extreme financial devastation of the fires, including medical and now funeral expenses as well. Type "GoFundMe Chris and Angie."

And we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: CNN has learned Trump administration officials have been altering weekly COVID science reports coming out of the CDC so as not to undermine the president's political message on the pandemic. For more on that, let's bring in John Harwood at the White House. So John, what more can you tell us about this report?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Fred, what we're learning is the continuation of a pattern that we've seen extended across the government, Justice Department, DHS, Commerce Department, of using the levers of the government to assist the president with his political reelection and his campaign message.

[14:15:05] In this case, you've got a political appointee, Michael Caputo at the Department of Health and Human Services, who has a science adviser who has been intervening in the weekly science reports prepared by the CDC about the coronavirus pandemic in ways that the career officials think are trying to put pressure on them to fit the president's story that the pandemic has been exaggerated.

We know from Bob Woodward's reporting this week that the president consistently has tried to downplay this pandemic. He downplays it to this day by having rallies where people don't wear masks and are not social distanced. He's trying to communicate to the American people that the pandemic is basically behind us, let's talk about reopening the economy. He thinks that's his best shot at reelection.

WHITFIELD: And, John, this comes after a very difficult week for the president. And he's once again hitting the campaign trail today, this time in Nevada, with wildfires raging in the west and the country continuing to battle this pandemic. What is the goal of the president as he tries to campaign in a state that is being hit hard, at least from these wildfires?

HARWOOD: Fred, this is turning into a more eventful western swing than the president initially counted on. In Nevada where he goes today, that's a state with six electoral votes. He lost them narrowly to Hillary Clinton four years ago. He's hoping to make a comeback this time, take those away from Joe Biden, counting on Hispanic voters. He's doing better with them this year than he did in 2016. He's going to count on concern about reopening the state because the president has been more aggressive about doing that, and a lot of the entertainment industry in Las Vegas wants a more fulsome opening of this country.

He will then go to California to McClellan Park on Monday to tour wildfire damage, and then he goes to Arizona, which is another western state. He did win it in 2016. He's under severe pressure from Joe Biden right now. It's got more electoral votes than Nevada, 11. So he's playing defense in that state. And between the two of them, he's trying to defend a trailing position in this race, both nationally and in the key battleground states.

WHITFIELD: John Harwood at the White House, thanks so much.

With just 52 days until the election, CNN has learned the Trump campaign has launched an operation to lay the groundwork for legal battles over mail-in voting. Pamela Brown has the story.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: As President Trump continues to rail against mail-in ballots without evidence to support his claims --

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They'll be dumping them in neighborhoods. People are going to be picking them up. They'll be bribing. BROWN: CNN has learned the Trump campaign is bombarding local election

officials in swing states with personal phone calls and questionnaires, digging for details on mail-in ballots, apparently hunting for potential evidence needed to back up any future Trump claims of a rigged system.

DAVID BECKER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR ELECTION INNOVATION: You would normally expect to see campaigns try to help learn about the process so they can help their voters, but this is at least as much focused on what happens after the election.

BROWN: In some states, local officials have received forms from the Trump campaign and obtained by CNN, with detailed questions about how ballots will be verified, what is being done to store them and secure them. In Wisconsin alone more than 1,800 election clerks have received a two-page questionnaire seeking personal information and raising specific questions about whether remote voting processes are trustworthy. And in Georgia, clerks received this long list of almost 60 questions, primarily focused on mail-in ballots, with questions like "what additional security processes are in place to protect mail- in ballots?"

Election experts say the questions seem more like a deposition than an effort to collect basic facts.

BECKER: They're looking to catch election officials maybe in a gotcha or something like that, rather than to help their voters and their campaign navigate the process.

BROWN: A Trump campaign spokesperson says, quote, "As part of the Trump campaign's efforts to ensure a free and fair election, we have asked county clerks for information so that we can gain a detailed understanding of absentee voting processes."

Courting clerks and gathering information ahead of an election isn't unusual, but election officials tell CNN this is more ramped-up, aggressive, and targeted than in years past. The expansive effort comes as the White House indicates it may not accept results after Election Day.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What we want election night to look like is a system that's fair, a situation where we know who the president of the United States is on election night. That's how the system is supposed to work.

BROWN: But election night results are never official, and if the election is contested in court, the responses to the questionnaires could be used by Trump's lawyers.

Election experts say one possible election scenario is what is known as the blue shift, with Trump ahead on election night and Biden pulling in front after election night through mail-in ballots.


BECKER: There is no such thing as election night results. They're only partial results, and they always have been partial results. It's because states want to do their jobs in validating that every vote has been properly cast and that all of them have been counted.

BROWN: The Biden campaign is also engaged in outreach to local election officials across the country, though it is more scaled back than what we've seen from the Trump campaign, according to officials. A Biden campaign spokesperson told CNN in a statement, "We've made a major early investment in putting voter protection staff on the ground so they can build relationships with officials and ensure voting goes smoothly."

Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: And this just in, all students at Michigan State University being urged to quarantine as coronavirus spreads across the campus.

Plus, the Coronavirus Task Force says Georgia is still in the so- called red zone. So what can be done to stop the spread? The mayor of Athens joins me live.



WHITFIELD: All local students at Michigan State University are being strongly encouraged to self-quarantine immediately to contain an outbreak on campus. Local officials say at least one-third of the new cases reported on campus have been traced back to parties and other social gatherings. CNN's Dianne Gallagher joining me right now. So Dianne, how challenging has it been for college administrators to keep students from large gatherings?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think we've started to see this play out across the country, Fred -- 342 people attached to Michigan State University have tested positive for COVID-19 since August 24th. Now, a Michigan State University physician issued this statement to CNN, saying that "MSU is committed to doing everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The safety of our entire community is a priority, and we all have a role to play in preventing the spread of the virus. This recommendation from the health department is just another tool to help us do that."

That request for people to voluntarily self-isolate and quarantine is to try and prevent the spread. But like you said, people are still doing things off campus if they don't live on campus. Perhaps one of the best examples we've seen recently is this at Miami University in Ohio. It's from police bodycam video that essentially shows an officer that was driving by and saw what looked like a large gathering outside of a house. He then begins to talk to them, saying you're in violation of an order, only 10 people inside or outside. And then finds out something really unfortunately disturbing once he scans one of the resident's I.D.s.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never seen this before. There's an input on the computer that you tested positive for COVID.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a week ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you supposed to be quarantining?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's why I'm at my house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you have other people here and you're positive for COVID? You see the problem?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were honestly all walking by when we were out here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many other people have COVID?



GALLAGHER: So there were six students from Miami University in Ohio who were cited for violating that mass gathering order in the city. That's a fine of at least $500, Fred. We talked to Miami University. They wouldn't go into the details of what's going to happen to those students but did say that violating quarantine or that mass gathering ordinance would cause them to face disciplinary action.

WHITFIELD: All right, Dianne Gallagher, thank you so much for that.

So it must be pretty baffling for any local or state leader who has been trying to convince people to wear face masks and then hear this portion of the recorded Bob Woodward interview with President Trump.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now it's turning out it's not just old people, Bob. But just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It's not just older --


TRUMP: It's plenty of young people. Well, I think, Bob, really, to be honest with you --

WOODWARD: Sure, I want you to be.

TRUMP: I wanted to, I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down.


TRUMP: Because I don't want to create a panic.


WHITFIELD: I want to bring in now Kelly Girtz. He is the mayor of Athens, Georgia, and has been critical of the Georgia governor, Brian Kemp's battle against local leaders being able to enact face mask rules. So Mayor, good to see you. Your reaction to what you are hearing coming from the president of the United States?

MAYOR KELLY GIRTZ (D), ATHENS-CLARKE COUNTY, GEORGIA: It's frustrating to the extreme, Fredricka. I really appreciate you having me on. Local leaders are doing everything we can in Georgia to contain the spread. We certainly are asking for smart individual behavior, but we also have to have smart institutional behavior, and that means statewide and nationwide.

I had an opportunity to be in a conference earlier this year with George W. Bush, speaking about his experience after 9/11, and of course yesterday was the 19th anniversary of that tragic episode. And while I didn't support him as a president, he said something really smart about what it takes to be a good leader in times like this. And he said that you have to be empathetic, and you also have to be very honest with people about the challenges. And on the national level we've seen a failure in both of those arenas.


This president is not empathetic and he also is not being frank with the American public, and unfortunately that's bled down to leaders like Governor Kemp, and that's had an impact on the local level here. Athens is a city that all through the summer had lower case counts and lower death count per capita than any other metro area in the state, but in this last month we've seen this dramatic spike.

WHITFIELD: I was going to say, you attribute the more impressive numbers to the fact that you have been trying to encourage people to wear masks for a very long time. What do you think explains the most recent spike?

GIRTZ: Clearly, it's the return to campus of large numbers of students who are not here through the summertime. We're a city of 130,000. We probably had an influx of 20,000 or 25,000 students here just in the last month. And of course, it's being replicated across the country. You see it in Oxford, Mississippi, in Columbia, Missouri, in Pullman, Washington, other metro areas that, sadly, are on this rising case count spike in recent weeks.

But, again, what we need is coordination. We need state leaders and national leaders who will say we need some common restrictions, some common understandings of what is good. Here in Georgia, the size restriction even on an interior gathering is 50 persons, much too high for the circumstances here.

WHITFIELD: But while you have been firm about advocating for people distancing and wearing a mask, that is your city of Athens. With the University of Georgia, being Athens is its home, do you see any real coordination, successful coordination that you might be able to have with the campus leadership?

GIRTZ: I've been in constant contact with campus leadership. And of course, they're guided by statewide leadership. And if you compare them to, say, some of the institutions in communities that have had much lower case count, they're simply allowing more activity, creating an environment for more activity.

Before I moved into this office a year-and-a-half ago I worked with teenagers for 20 years. We know a lot about the young mind, we know a lot about young people's emotionality and libido, and certainly young people are going to do the things that young people do. And so we need to create the underlying conditions that keep people safe. And so that means very low allowance of gatherings, and really as much digital or online activity as possible.

And so if you look at University of Virginia or University of North Carolina, Charlottesville or Chapel Hill, they've seen per capita much lower case counts because statewide leaders were able to enable local leaders to make those kinds of decisions.

WHITFIELD: Mayor Kelly Girtz of Athens, Georgia, thank you so much. All the best to you.

GIRTZ: Thank you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Up next, AstraZeneca resumes coronavirus vaccine trials in the United Kingdom after an unexpected delay. Plus, a CNN exclusive, an inside look at vaccine research in Russia, why a critical development is getting mixed reaction.



WHITFIELD: AstraZeneca's Oxford University coronavirus vaccine trial is set to resume across the U.K. The drug giant's late stage trials were paused last week following an unexplained illness in one of its volunteers. AstraZeneca is working with health authorities around the world to determine when trials can resume in other countries.

Joining me right now to discuss is Dr. Jayne Morgan, the clinical director of Piedmont Healthcare's Coronavirus Task Force in Atlanta, and, by the way, she happens to be the mother of one of our fine correspondents, Omar Jimenez. Good to see you, Doctor.


WHITFIELD: Wonderful. The AstraZeneca vaccine is one of three vaccines in late stage, phase three trials right here in the United States. Should this pause give Americans confidence that officials are following all the proper protocols?

MORGAN: I think so. And I think specifically with the AstraZeneca, I applaud them for halting the trials. Certainly, they're getting that information from their data safety board. And so there must have been something significant that they wanted to take a look at and explore thoroughly, which is what we expect, not only from our pharmaceutical companies, but from our regulatory bodies, to make sure everything that is developed and then later approved by the FDA here in the United States is not only efficacious, meaning that it works, but, most importantly, that it is safe. And so I think that's the point that they're making, and I think certainly we can have confidence in that.

WHITFIELD: Potential vaccine maker Moderna says it has increased the number of minority volunteers involved in its vaccine trials after struggling to enroll enough people of color earlier in the summer. We know that black and brown people have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. How important is it that they also be part of these human trials?

MORGAN: Fredricka, clinical trials offer our absolute best thinking in science. Without access to clinical trials, without human volunteers, we don't have the ability to develop our medicines and our devices for tomorrow. And so when we look at this critical thinking, it's absolutely important that we have African-Americans enrolled in these trials. And I think Moderna is a great example. Early on in that trial they did not have that. They only had two patients enrolled out of a total of 45, and certainly African-Americans in particular make up just over 13 percent of the population, and a much greater proportion of the disproportionate impact that COVID is having on our communities.


And so it's important that we develop medicines and vaccines that are relevant to the communities that we are going to serve. I think this is an ongoing historical issue, and certainly I have been discussing this for many years. It has been a concern for many years.

WHITFIELD: Right, and you talk about the historical reference, the historical reference being for generations, many generations, particularly after the Tuskegee experiment, many people of color have been reluctant about any kind of medical experiments. And so that may be largely behind this reticence today of why so many black and brown people say I'm not interested in participating in any human trials.

MORGAN: Absolutely. Tuskegee, obviously penicillin was discovered in 1928. The Tuskegee trial began in 1932, which was supposed to be for six months. It went on for 40 years. Penicillin, at least by 1942, 1943, was the treatment of choice for syphilis. That treatment was denied these men, and instead it was chosen to observe the natural course of syphilis, which is devastating in its tertiary stages, with medication never being offered them, and the six-month trial went on for 40 years. It devastated their lives.

And I think that is incredibly important. When we look at Henrietta Lacks and what happened to her and cervical cancer back in 1950, those cells that were procured from her cervix, from a cancer that was not able to be cured, are still used today in labs throughout America. There's no compensation for the families. Those cells have been used to develop polio vaccines, cures for

leukemia, influenza vaccines. They've even gone to the moon. We've cross-referenced them in mice. There was no consent for those cells to be used. So even though she died in 1950, science still benefits from those cells. And so there are many stories like that as we move forward, and certainly, then there's reticence and fear.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and especially once you help remind people of all of that, there's no wonder, there should be no wonder why there is such reticence. Dr. Jayne Morgan, thank you so much. I hope we can have you back.

MORGAN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: More countries are betting on Russia's coronavirus vaccine. A source tells CNN that India is slated to join Brazil and Mexico on the list next week. The vaccine is viewed with skepticism here in the U.S. and elsewhere. Matthew Chance has this exclusive report from Moscow.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is what Russia hopes will be the vaccine that beats the global pandemic. We've been given access to the start of crucial phase three trials, and to volunteers like Andrey to discover whether Sputnik V, as it's called, really can save lives.

ANDREY OLSHEVSKY, TRIAL VOLUNTEER, (through translator): I've been looking forward to this third stage of trials. I want this vaccine to come into wide circulation as soon as possible so that all citizens of our big country can be safe.

CHANCE: Russia has good reason to want this battle won against COVID- 19. With over a million confirmed infections, it's one of the world's most affected countries. But Moscow has been accused of cutting corners, using spies to steal western research, which it denies, and after positive early results, approving its vaccine even before third phase trials had begun.

RICHARD HORTON, "THE LANCET": What we can say is that this new Russian vaccine, the results are encouraging, but it would be premature, highly premature to think that this is the basis for a successful vaccine for public use.

CHANCE: But at City Hospital Number Two in Moscow, where we witnessed the first of an expected 40,000 trial volunteers being injected, doctors told me they're optimistic that these important trials will help establish the Russian vaccine. It's why, Yekaterina (ph), a nursery school teacher, says she volunteered to take part, despite the risks. It's necessary, she told me, not just for herself, but for everyone else.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WHITFIELD: Coming up, as the fight against racism and injustice continues across the country, some families in Georgia are taking matters into their own hands by creating a safe space for black people.



WHITFIELD: It's a tense time in America as the country reckons with its history of racial injustice. But that movement and all it entails has many African-American people mapping out at least one safe space existence. More than a dozen families in Georgia say it begins with purchasing land. Victor Blackwell reports from what they're calling Freedom, Georgia.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Do you hear that? That is the sound of Freedom, a lush and rugged expanse, about 130 miles south of Atlanta, just shy of 97 acres. It's undeveloped, unincorporated, and it has new owners.


RENEE WALTERS, PRESIDENT, FREEDOM GEORGIA INITIATIVE: It feels amazing. It feels really amazing. I cry every time I come here.

BLACKWELL: Renee Walters is one of them. She's president of the Freedom Georgia Initiative. It's a collective of 19 black families who recently bought this land. This dream all started a few weeks ago during Renee's typical morning call with her friend, Ashley Scott.

ASHLEY SCOTT, VICE PRESIDENT, FREEDOM GEORGIA INITIATIVE: She said, Ashley, did you see the article about Toomsboro for sale.

BLACKWELL: It turns out that the entire small town was never for sale, just a bundle of a few dozen homes and buildings. So Ashley, a real estate agent, looked for listings in the area and found one for this.

SCOTT: And it was just such a beautiful piece of land. It was affordable, and it just made sense that we could create something that would be amazing for our families.

BLACKWELL: Why were these two women interested in the prospect of buying a town in the first place?

SCOTT: It really was a -- when we saw what happened with Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the protests.

WALTERS: We both have black husbands. We both have black sons. And I was starting to get overwhelmed and have a sense of anxiety when my husband would leave the house and go to work.

SCOTT: So watching our people protesting in the streets, while it is important and I want people to stay out on the streets bringing attention to the injustices of black people, we needed to create a space and a place where we could be a village again, a tribe again.

BLACKWELL: So Renee and Ashley reached out to family and friends and, together they bought what they intend to name Freedom, Georgia, a new black city.

SCOTT: We don't intend for it to be exclusively black, but we do intend for it to be pro-black in every way.

BLACKWELL: Jessica Gordon Nembhard is an economist and an expert on black collectives.

JESSICA GORDON NEMBHARD, PROFESSOR, JOHN JAY COLLEGE AT CUNY: I found tremendous benefits to individuals, families, and the communities that are involved in it, including the economic stability and prosperity, but also leadership development, social capital development, other kinds of human capital development. And so it's really a win-win for everybody involved to be involved.


BLACKWELL: The owners hosted the big black camp-out over Labor Day weekend. Supporters drove in from across the country. The plan is to introduce farming next, create a lake for sustainable fishing, facilities for recreation, and eventually develop a fully operational, expanded city.

SCOTT: By being able to create a community that is thriving, that is safe, that has agriculture and commercial businesses that are supporting one another and that dollar circulating in our community, that is our vision. And to be able to pass this land down to my children and to the children that are represented by each of our 19 families as a piece of legacy, we're hoping to create legacy.

BLACKWELL: Victor Blackwell, CNN, Wilkinson County, Georgia.


WHITFIELD: And now this week's Impact your World. Millions of wild animals are killed or injured every year in the U.S. from human causes. Nonprofits around the country like AWARE Wildlife Center just outside Atlanta are working to save them every day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: AWARE is a nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation center, like a hospital for injured and orphaned native wildlife. We are responsible for feeding them, medicating them. They might need swim time or other physical therapy to get their strength back. We just try to get them ready for release back into the wild.

We had about 1,300 patients in the last year. Most animals that have to come in to care are coming in from human impact, and the number one reason is being hit by a car. People throw food waste out the window, it brings small animals to the side of the road, and then larger animals come and they get hit. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cats, as much as we love them, they are kind of

hurting the wildlife. They're responsible for 5 billion deaths every year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We put out rat poison to deal with mice and rats. That gets into the food chain and hurts owls and foxes. We do occasionally go out and do rescues ourselves. We usually give the public instructions on how to safely bring animals in to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The goose showed up in the back yard and its foot was ensnarled in fishing line, and it was having trouble walking. They loaned an air-propelled net, covered the goose. We picked it up. They operated on it and we brought it home the same day and released it back. It was special, because we knew because of us this goose was going to live.

We can't save them all, but I think it's important that we help those that we can.


WHITFIELD: For more information on how you can help, go to

Thank you so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. More CNN Newsroom right after this.


ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello on this Saturday. You're in the CNN Newsroom. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thank you for joining us.

We begin with yet another case of playing politics with people's lives during a pandemic.