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Packed Parade, Roads, Airports Show Holiday Near Back To Normal; More Smash-And-Grab Mob Thefts At California's Nordstrom And Apple Stores; Arbery's Mother Thankful Today For Justice In Son's Death. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 25, 2021 - 14:00   ET



JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: Hi everyone. I'm Jessica Dean. Victor Blackwell and Alisyn Camerota are off today.

We want to welcome you to this Special Holiday Edition of CNN NEWSROOM and wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. It's the first since COVID vaccinations were created, and Americans are taking full advantage.

The T.S.A. just announced airports so 2.3 million people go through its checkpoints, the most since the pandemic began. A recent poll finds nearly 70 percent of us are spending today with the same number of people or more than we did before COVID hit.

And today's most colorful and creative sign yet that America is nearly back to normal, a packed Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Two and a half million people were expected to show up along the route in New York City and take a listen to their cheers for the star of the show.


KATE MCHUGH, MACY'S PARADE SPECTATOR: It feels like we are almost getting back to normal in a sense, you know, we're able to be out in crowds again and be able to see family. We're visiting family in New Jersey that we haven't seen in a long time.


DEAN: It is a great feeling and CNN's Pete Muntean is at Reagan National Airport. And Pete, the T.S.A. just announcing a new pandemic air record for the number of travelers, which means this new move by the Justice Department matters even more. Tell us what they're doing and about this new priority for Federal prosecutors.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it's so true, Jessica, 2.3 million people screened at airports across the country just yesterday by the T.S.A. That number double where we were this time last year, 88 percent of the number back in 2019 before the pandemic, a new pandemic era air travel record, and it really underscores the need for this crackdown by Federal prosecutors on the number of unruly, ugly, violent passengers on board airplanes.

A.G. Merrick Garland is directing Federal prosecutors, U.S. attorneys to handle these cases with the highest priority because the issue here is that the Federal Aviation Administration cannot press criminal charges, it can only assess civil fines when these numbers of incidents are really off the charts -- 5,300 incidents reported by flight crews to the F.A.A. just this year.

The F.A.A. has initiated enforcement action in 266 of those cases. It has referred 37 of those cases to the Department of Justice and it's only those passengers who could face up to 25 years in prison. A.G. Merrick Garland is telling U.S. attorneys: "Passengers who assault, intimidate, or threaten violence against flight crews do more than just harm employees, they prevent performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel."

He is also saying that the Department of Justice and the F.A.A. have developed a close relationship where they are doing more information sharing, but remember, these flight attendants are there for your safety.

There was a recent release of new fines from the F.A.A., where one passenger was fined $40,000.00 for allegedly sexually assaulting a flight attendant. They are on the frontlines of this, enforcing the Federal transportation mask mandate and people really becoming unhinged on planes. They are also on the front lines of the Holidays and they will be working as flight crews are dealing with airlines that have gotten a lot smaller during the pandemic.

You know these numbers are pretty high, Jessica, 2.3 million people. We will probably see that number surpassed on Sunday when everybody begins coming home all at once.

DEAN: Yes, it's a lot of moving parts. What do you know about other modes of travel? Obviously, air travel is up by a lot.

MUNTEAN: Well, you can't forget people traveling by car, and AAA anticipated that 48 million people would travel by car for Thanksgiving. That number really not that far off from where we were back in 2019, before the pandemic, only about a three percent difference.

But people are doing it when the gas prices are so high. The national average, $3.40 a gallon, $1.30 more expensive than this time last year as the Maryland House Travel Plaza in Aberdeen, Maryland between Philadelphia and Baltimore just yesterday, and folks there told me they could not wait to get out. People are really taking it on the chin when it comes to cost. The traffic is back, too, but they want to get out because they shuttered their plans last year.

DEAN: Yes. Everybody just so happy to see their people again. All right, Pete Muntean, thanks so much.

Brazen smash and grab thieves have struck again in both Northern and Southern California. The so-called flash mobs hit two different shopping centers in Los Angeles last night. Police say groups of suspects robbed several stores at the Beverly Center and another group hit a Nordstrom store at a mall about 20 miles away. Police told CNN affiliate, KABC, that the robber sprayed a security

officer with bear spray before making off with about $25,000.00 worth of goods.

And up in Northern California, a separate mob struck an Apple store in Santa Rosa. Security video shows some of the robbers taking items from the display table, and authorities say in that case, they got away with about $20,000.00 worth of merchandise.

CNN national correspondent, Camila Bernal is in Santa Rosa and Camila, do police have any leads here?


CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they do, because they have that surveillance video, and that is going to be a key part of that investigation. They know that it was at least four people that came into this mall and were able to walk out with about $20,000.00 worth of Apple products.

This happened in the middle of the day with shoppers and staff members at the mall. And yet, they were able to come out get into a car and get away. And so, it is concerning for so many people here in the Bay Area. And especially because in this case, we're talking about teenagers.

The Police Department saying they are ages 14 to 18, and it is happening as you mentioned in Southern California as well. They have surveillance video that they're going over today as well. And in that case, authorities say at the Nordstrom, there were at least five people responsible for all of this.

And so it's just becoming an increasing problem here in California. But LAPD saying that they are going to have increased patrols, and that is what we're seeing in San Francisco as well. We're seeing more officers at these luxury stores.

But for some of them, it's too late. In San Francisco, we're talking about the Louis Vuitton, the Nordstrom, the Bloomingdale's, the YSL and even pharmacies like Walgreens, and so the Chief of Police in San Francisco saying that they will continue to investigate, go over hours and hours of surveillance video trying to match faces and cars, and he did promise more arrests.

But the reality is that it then gets handed off to the District Attorney, and in San Francisco, he is a controversial figure who says that he will keep people accountable, but at the same time says it is judges who will decide whether or not these people remain in jail -- Jessica.

DEAN: All right, well, we'll see what happens there. Camila Bernal for us. Thanks so much.

And let's talk more about this disturbing trend with Anthony Barksdale. He was the acting Baltimore Police Commissioner. Anthony, great to see you. We have seen several of these types of crimes in Los Angeles, San

Francisco, the Chicago area. Are these mob thefts a new tactic? Or is this something that's been around for a while and we're just seeing an increase in it now?

ANTHONY BARKSDALE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It's been around for a while, but this is definitely an increase in this jurisdiction. It is one of the things where police -- I mean, right now, they don't have a lot of manpower, they don't have a lot of the things that used to be available. So they have to make it a priority because this pattern has to be broken. The Chief said he's going to make more arrests.

But what does that look like? How many are going to be arrested when? How does this happen? And it is something they must focus on.

DEAN: Right. Because I mean, at this point, you know, what happens if there's more violence, or you know, God forbid, they are armed at one point or it sort of begins to escalate with these sorts of situations, and we know that there's a black market for a lot of these items. But why do you think we're seeing so many of these types of robberies right now?

BARKSDALE: They can get away with it. I mean, if the police aren't right there to make an arrest, and they're walking in with disguises, and they have their bear spray and they're spraying people, and they can get away, then they're going to do it.

So what I did in Baltimore was I put the officers inside the stores, in plainclothes and they worked with the store employees. So, when that incident did occur, when someone came in or a crew came in to do such a thing, we took them down, then and there.

So they have to get aggressive with this and do it immediately.

DEAN: And so walk me through that, since you have experience in this, like how challenging is it to both investigate a crime like this? And also to make it a priority for police departments? As you said right now, you know, you have to divert a lot of manpower, it sounds like to do something like this. How hard is it to kind of get your hands around something like this?

BARKSDALE: Well, Jessica, it's a manpower decision. At the top, as the Chief is saying, he is going to make more arrests then he has the power to say, give me one sergeant and eight detectives, put them in plain clothes and move them through various stores.

Look for the patterns where they may show up and have your detectives waiting for them, workers inside undercover and an arrest team outside to take them down. So, it's not difficult. It's the decision and that you're going to do it, but the police don't control the prosecutor.

If the prosecutor says I'm not charging them if it's under $950.00 worth of merchandise, then there's a problem. You have to charge them for their actions, whether it's a misdemeanor or felony.


DEAN: Right, you're saying that a consequence is important in this situation?

BARKSDALE: Absolutely.

DEAN: And in terms of the stores themselves, what role can they play? Because obviously, they've got to work with the local police department. But you know, it also falls on these stores to have to, you know, protect their merchandise and their employees and the people shopping there.

BARKSDALE: You're right. So, you have some stores that won't file a complaint, and you have to be able to make it clear that this is unacceptable. So, the stores can change how they display their merchandise. They could maybe throw in some GPS devices, if you know, we have these high-end bags that everybody wants to steal now, throw some in, help the police track the suspects down as soon as they do these acts.

So, it is something that law enforcement and prosecutors and the stores can come together and figure out. I firmly believe that.

DEAN: And while I got you here, I want to ask you also, too, about what's happening in Philadelphia and here in Washington, D.C.

Philadelphia tied its 1990 record of 500 homicides for the year and "The Washington Post" just reported that D.C. has seen 200 homicides this year. That's the most since 2003. What do you make of this moment and these numbers?

BARKSDALE: I think it is a failure to protect the citizens, and I'm really focusing on black and brown communities. The data has been there for long enough for politicians and police executives and prosecutors to say what we're doing is not working. These numbers are staggering, and it is unacceptable and it is horrible to watch.

I'm right down from you, straight down to '95 in Baltimore, and we crossed 300 homicides and we're still going. So we have to make a decision to return to proactive policing, with strong accountability for the officers, prosecutors prosecuting and restore these communities.

DEAN: All right, Anthony Barksdale, thank you so much for your thoughts today. We appreciate it and have a great Thanksgiving.

BARKSDALE: You, too.

DEAN: All right, thanks.

Up next, what we're learning about punishment for the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery.

And President Biden's doctor revealing a potentially pre-cancerous tumor found during his colonoscopy. We've got the latest on that.

Tens of thousands of Californians spending Thanksgiving without power. We'll have a live report.



DEAN: The three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery are spending this Thanksgiving in prison. A jury found the trio guilty of murder and multiple other charges yesterday. Arbery's mothers spoke to CNN this morning and reflected on the bittersweet feeling she has this Thanksgiving.


WANDA COOPER-JONES, MOTHER OF AHMAUD ARBERY: This is a second Thanksgiving that my family and I will share without Ahmaud, but this is the first Thanksgiving that we can look at that empty chair and say, we finally got justice for you, Ahmaud.

So, I mean, it is like a bittersweet moment. He's not here, but I know that he's in the heavens, very, very, very, very thankful that we got justice for him.


DEAN: CNN's Ryan Young joins us now from Brunswick, Georgia where the verdicts were read yesterday afternoon. And Ryan, I understand there was a cautious mood over the city leading up to the Holiday. What's it been like there?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. If you can think about it with the nation's eyes on the city, a lot of people were wondering what would happen when the verdict was read? And quite honestly, you had businesses in this area that were concerned, because there was a lot of faith leaders who were in this area, who were talking to businesses and people who were doing protesting to make sure things remained calm.

It was really eerie yesterday to watch everyone as I walked out of the courtroom, and they all had their phones in their hand, listening to the verdict, and you could hear the excitement, and I will say this as well.

Beyond the cheering, every time there was a protest, or anyone demonstrating about this trial, it never got physically violent at all. And so, we did have a big showing of law enforcement here. But they were really never needed. So that was a good sign for all the things that played out during this trial over the last two and a half weeks.

DEAN: Yes. And I want to ask you, too, about that video that was shot by William Bryan of the murder and the moments leading up to this.

None of these three men were charged until that video went viral, and we're learning more about how that came about. Walk us through that.

YOUNG: Yes. When you think about all of this, when that video was finally shown, and then the GBI stepped in, and you think about the investigation, there was a lot of parts of this, but it was actually one of the lawyers who was trying to show the video to prove that it was self-defense, and that really backfired. And they started asking -- it had a lot of people asking questions.

There were two prosecutors who were really removed from this case, and another prosecutor was brought in. So when you think about all the steps in this case, to get us to where we are, it's quite amazing, especially with the fact that the State of Georgia has changed two laws, you have the new law in terms of no citizen's arrest, and you also have a Hate Crime Law.

So you can see the hands of justice in motion in the state. Of course, there's Federal charges, and there could be more sentencing for these two men or three men in the coming week. So, this is still not over yet. There's still a lot of questions about how this moves forward.

But when you think about Wanda Cooper-Jones in that fight of a mother who kept fighting for her son even when all the chips were stacked against her, it is amazing to see where we are at this point.


DEAN: It is. It is. Ryan Young for us, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

And let's discuss this now with CNN political analyst and national political reporter for "The New York Times" Astead Herndon and Civil Rights attorney Charles Coleman, great to see both of you. Thanks for making time on this Thanksgiving.

Charles, I want to start with you. We just talked to Ryan about this video that was a key piece of evidence in this case. It was also a key piece of evidence in George Floyd's murder as well. Would these cases have really gone been prosecuted, even to the extent they were had the outcomes that they ultimately did without those videos?

CHARLES F. COLEMAN, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: That's a great question, and I think the answer illustrates what we have to look forward to with respect to our justice system, and the work that remains.

Simply put, no, they would not. And that's why we have to ensure that we continue to keep our feet on the gas when it comes to making sure that we hold the system accountable in order to hold those who violate the system accountable, in order to hold those who violate black bodies accountable.

We know that in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, were it not for the fact that there was a crooked prosecutor who is now being indicted for trying to shield three convicted felons from murder, were it not for the love of a black mother, who continued to press forward with respect to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations over two months for an arrest to actually take place and were it not for the video that you just described, we might not ever be talking about this case at all especially not talking about the verdict that was handed down. And so because of that, because we have gotten to a point where video

has been the norm, we need to make sure that people understand. This is not the standard that we are setting in order to get a conviction when Black Lives are harmed or violated. These are exceptions. These are not the rule. And it's important that people understand that.

DEAN: Astead, Arbery's mother spoke to CNN this morning about the effect her son has now had on Georgia's citizen arrest law. I'll play a clip from that.


COOPER-JONES: Ahmaud implemented change. He's brought about the Hate Crime Law in Georgia. He caused the Citizen's Arrest Law to be repealed, and I want people to think of Ahmaud as change. Ahmaud lost his life, but he didn't lose his life in vain.


DEAN: And we didn't really see any reform after George Floyd's murder, certainly not police reform, but even criminal justice reform. Why do you think they are able to get this stuff done now? And is that maybe the way forward that it's done, maybe on a local -- it starts at a local level as opposed to Federal reform, which, you know, Congress can't seem to get done?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that's a great point. I mean, what we're seeing here is changes on the state and local level, which has happened in some instances across the country, you have had states and localities do things like ban chokeholds, do things like reform, police accountability practices, but we have not been able to see the Federal government step up and act. And I think that that's something that folks have really been looking to.

Remember, after the murder of George Floyd, they renamed that Justice and Policing Act. They named that in his honor. There was a deadline imposed, saying that they were going to pass those bills in remembrance of the actions that took place. There was that groundswell of attention. And now that seems to have faded. We're in this moment of backlash, specifically against a lot of racial progressive language. We have a propped up fears of critical race theory and things like that.

And so you have a political environment that is completely distinct from the one that we entered into last summer, and that's going to add another challenge for activists, for civil rights officials who want those to be passed, and also the White House. They have put their full political capital behind making some of these changes, but they have not yet been able to get Democrats in Congress to go along with them.

DEAN: Right. I followed all of that. I covered it, and that was really one of the most bipartisan things that they thought they could get done, was to get that police reform done. And now, those talks have absolutely fallen apart and don't look like they're starting up anytime soon. Charles, the prosecution in this trial did not bring up race often

during the trial, but the three men are now facing these Federal hate crime charges in addition to these other charges they were just convicted of.

How might race play a role in that trial? This is going to be different because it is hate crimes.

COLEMAN: Well, I think what we can expect is to see race play a much bigger role in the Federal hate crime charge that awaits these three defendants and now convicted felons and convicted murderers.

I want to be clear about something, the prosecutor did not overtly talk about race in their case and their case in chief on the summation or their rebuttal, but the prosecution actually did do a very good job of bringing up a lot of themes that were connected to race.

In the rebuttal, the prosecution brought up the notion of white entitlement and sort of this notion of white superiority in terms of how each of the three actors did.


COLEMAN: So, I do want to point that out to viewers, but what we are going to see in the Federal trial is a lot more evidence that speaks to the racial animus that we know existed with respect to Roddie Bryan's internet searches, with respect to Confederate flag decals on the pickup trucks that were involved in this, and other things that we know took place, but were not admitted into evidence in this case because this trial did not demand that with respect to proving those elements, and the Judge did not find it probative enough.

When you're talking about Federal hate crimes, there's a different standard, there's a different level of what has to be proved. And so, because that piece of evidence or those pieces of evidence speak directly to those elements proven at times, I imagine that the Judge is going to find that to be relevant. It is going to come in and you're going to hear a lot more of that as part of the conversation.

DEAN: And Astead, on the flip side, the defense team did bring up race throughout the trial, especially in their closing arguments, but it did not work. And the jury did not lean into that. What does that say to you that it didn't work?

HERNDON: So I think that the jury found that there was overwhelming evidence here to convict these defendants, but we have to look at these cases one by one. I don't think we can make a sweeping statement about what this specific outcome means for cases in America. I think it's a great point to say think of the things that all have to go right for the prosecution to get the conviction.

You needed that video evidence, you needed the pressure from the mother, you needed a kind of scope of things to happen. You know, I'll never forget the initial press release released by the Minneapolis Police Department in the wake of George Floyd's death. There are so many of the cases that we do not know the full extent of

what is happening because we never got that video evidence. We never got the ability to take -- to challenge the police departments accounting of the facts.

I think that we are entering a period in this country though where we're going to see the questions of race and racial identity play out on the political forefront. You have Democrats who sometimes want to talk about so-called kitchen table issues.

Well, this Thanksgiving, there's a lot of folks who are going to be sitting around their kitchen tables, talking about race. And so there's going to be have to be parties and elected officials that come up with answers to that and really try to motivate and speak to people where they are on this stuff.

DEAN: Astead Herndon and Charles Coleman, our thanks to both of you. Have a Great Thanksgiving.

COLEMAN: You, too. Happy Thanksgiving.

HERNDON: Thanks.

DEAN: Thanks. Coming up, what we are learning about the tumor found during President Biden's colonoscopy last week.

And a massive effort underway to feed tens of thousands of Texans this Thanksgiving.