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News Brief: George Floyd Protests Continue, Minneapolis Police Under Investigation


Early indications are that the night passed with somewhat less violence, somewhat less confrontation, which allows greater prominence to peaceful protests after the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. In Los Angeles yesterday, one protest included the mayor. NPR's Nate Rott is in LA and is on the line. Nate, good morning.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What have you seen?

ROTT: Yeah. So I spent most of the day with a colleague in downtown Los Angeles, where there was this massive group that had gathered next to city hall. That was where LA Mayor Eric Garcetti took a knee, as I think you were alluding to. It was one of many protests that occurred in Los Angeles yesterday. Thousands also gathered in Hollywood. There was a protest outside of Garcetti's own house. There were moments of tension. But as you said, I think they were all overwhelmingly peaceful.

The LAPD said they did make hundreds of arrests. But that was late in the night several hours after the 6 p.m. curfew here in LA. Earlier in the day, I talked to a bunch of protesters, including one father who brought his two young sons with him. His name is Gary Lee (ph). He's black. And he's said he's had a lot of difficult conversations with his sons over the last week. Similar, I think, to, you know, how many parents are having some difficult conversations. For example, he says he still doesn't know how to answer a question from his 8-year-old son about why the police officer didn't get off George Floyd's neck.

GARY LEE: Not that I can articulate to a 8-year-old. You know what I mean? Like, they still see the world as perfect, you know? Their classmates look different. But they play together at recess. So for him to, like, come to a whole different kind of understanding of the world at 8, I'm really, honestly, not prepared to do that to him.

INSKEEP: Nate, did he bring his 8-year-old to the protest?

ROTT: He did not bring his 8-year-old. But he brought two other sons, a 9 and 12-year-old, because he wanted this to be a learning experience for them, you know, the way that he said the '92 riots were a learning experience for him when he was their age. And, you know, (laughter) they were both taking it in stride. They seemed excited to be there, a little confused.

We walked with them for about a half-hour. And at one point, we rounded a corner. And there was a group of National Guardsmen standing across the street in camouflage, combat gear, guns across their chest. And his 9-year-old son pointed at them. And then his 12-year-old son, Marcus Farrow (ph), asked the question that I think, you know, many kids and, frankly, adults are asking in many cities across the country right now.

LEE: He can't...

MARCUS FARROW: Why are they here?

LEE: ...He doesn't understand that concept. When he looks to the left, he's like, wait, wait, what city am - and once again, I don't know how to quite explain why their guns are so big to him, you know? He just has those kind of questions.

INSKEEP: At least the guns were not fired, Nate. We are noting that...

ROTT: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...You know, it's not that there was no violence, but a quieter night than some others. How'd that come about?

ROTT: You know, yeah. I mean, I think there were many reasons for that. You know, it's hard to be prescriptive and to say why. You know, we haven't seen - or, at least, I didn't see police aggressively confront or engage any protesters yesterday in downtown LA. It would be hard to imagine that, you know, the large military presence isn't having an impact. And you have to imagine that police are more prepared for this after a week of demonstrations.

But, you know, maybe the most important thing is I think people are, really, policing themselves. I saw people in the protest try to keep each other calm. I know there were many chants of peaceful protest here and in other parts of the country. And I think these protesters don't want their message to be marred by, you know, the destruction and looting that we saw here and in so many other parts of the country over the last few days.

INSKEEP: Nate, thanks.

ROTT: Yeah. Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Nate Rott in Los Angeles. Now, yesterday, here in Washington, I asked a few protesters how long they meant to continue. And they said they wanted meaningful change. They said they would at least like to see charges against all four officers who were present for George Floyd's death, not just one who was charged so far. Hasn't happened yet, but the state of Minnesota is launching a broader investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department. Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan gave that news to Noel, who's in Minneapolis. Noel, good morning.


INSKEEP: What did she say?

KING: She said, and I quote, "this is not a friendly action" toward the Minneapolis Police Department. But it is the necessary one - meaning, I think, Steve, this is not a game. This is a confrontational move. It's going to start with the state filing a charge of discrimination against the police department.

PEGGY FLANAGAN: And this will launch a civil rights investigation into the department. Our Minnesota Department of Human Rights will be leading this and looking to use their investigatory authority as a tool to support the city in their efforts to make deep, systematic change that we need to see.

KING: Now, she was very clear that this investigation is not just about George Floyd. It's going to look at the past 10 years of all police work in Minneapolis. There's going to be a hotline. The state is urging people, tell us what you've experienced.

INSKEEP: And why did she say that much broader, longer-term investigation was necessary?

KING: Because this city has a real problem. There is profound mistrust between people of color and their police. The lieutenant governor told me, here in Minnesota, we don't really talk about that.

FLANAGAN: We also need to be in a place where we call white supremacy, white supremacy. And, well, that is the piece where Minnesota nice gets in the way. And folks say, oh, gosh. Don't talk about racism.

INSKEEP: Is that the experience that you've had the last several days in Minneapolis?

KING: No, it is not. I think it is a very well-meaning thing to say. But what I saw is that white authorities don't talk openly about racism. But black people in Minneapolis do. You know, so many people I talked to this week had some kind of bad or even terrible interaction with the police, like an unjust arrest or a family member who was shot and killed. And, Steve, this is not just civilians. I interviewed two retired police officers. They're both black women. They both described their time on the force in ways that, honestly, turned my stomach. Listen to one of them. Her name is Elisa Clemmons (ph).

ELISA CLEMMONS: My very first training officer was a white female. She called me cotton, buckwheat, a black B-I-T-C-H. We had a physical tussle in the Hennepin County hospital lot when she called me a black B. I never said anything. I never complained on her because I thought, I'm away from this crazy lady.

KING: By a way, she means she was transferred. And she wanted to keep her job. Now, this was back in the '90s. And both retired officers said it is better now. But it is still very far from perfect.

INSKEEP: Which is, I guess, what this investigation is going to try to look into across the past decade. Is this announcement the kind of thing that can end demonstrations in Minneapolis?

KING: You know, it might help. As you said, protesters are calling for changes to policy, right? A formal investigation could be a start to that. The thing we need to wait on is, what is the investigation going to find? And will people believe it found all that there is to find? - meaning, if it isn't transparent, I suspect that these problems are going to continue.

INSKEEP: Noel, I know a lot of people have noted your coverage across NPR programs the last few days from Minneapolis. Thanks for all of it. It's been great.

KING: Thank you.


INSKEEP: Now, President Trump's threat to use the military against protesters has prompted some protesters to do more. Yesterday, here in Washington, we encountered a group of people who were making a homemade solution to ease the effects of tear gas. One of them was a man who gave his name as Leland and said he wasn't even protesting until the president's threat.

LELAND: Right when I got the news that the president was deploying the military to D.C., I think something clicked. And it was like, it's time to just get out and do whatever you can.

INSKEEP: Some members of Congress also disapproved of the president's performance on Monday. That's when he made the threat about the military. And police tear gassed protesters to make room for a photo-op, where he was holding the Bible? So what, if anything, are lawmakers doing now? NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is with us. Sue, good morning.


INSKEEP: What are lawmakers saying?

DAVIS: Well, I think the criticism of the president has fallen along pretty familiar party lines. Democrats have much more loudly criticized the president for how he handled that moment. But there has been some muted criticism among Senate Republicans, much more so than usual. People like Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Tim Scott of South Carolina have criticized the president. Scott, of course, is the only black Republican in the Senate. And he stated pretty plainly yesterday that the president was wrong to clear the square so that he could go have that photo-op in front of the church.

INSKEEP: What about other lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans? Are they moving the agenda in this direction at all?

DAVIS: You know, House Democrats say they're going to put forward legislation offered by the Congressional Black Caucus. There is no real legislative plans in the Senate on this front. I think this is one of those issues that the parties still remain pretty far apart on what the solution to the problem is. And you already see a lot of Republicans noting - and correctly, in many ways - that a lot of these problems do need to be solved on the state and local level.

Also, as you heard the president say earlier this week, you know, he views himself as the law-and-order president. And those, sort of philosophically, are two very different starting points for a negotiation on any type of police reform legislation. So I think there will be debates on Capitol Hill. But the chances of a big, bipartisan, reform movement here are probably pretty low.

INSKEEP: So what you're hearing on the Republican side, at least, is a criticism of the president's style. And I don't mean to minimize tear-gassing protesters. But they disagree with the specifics of that incident rather than having a larger policy discussion that they want to have.

I want to ask about another issue, Sue Davis, because there's still a pandemic out there. We finally had several days of paying attention to something else. But the public health situation has not changed that much over the last several days, nor has the economic situation changed that much over the last several days. Are lawmakers very focused on that?

DAVIS: Well, not right now. Although, it's still very much an issue. There is no disagreement that they're going to need to pass more legislation. It's just a matter of when. Democrats have already passed a $3 trillion bill in the House. But Senate Republicans say that they're much more likely to take something up in July. That is when sort of certain unemployment benefits are set to expire. And that is generally a pretty good pressure point for Congress to take action.

INSKEEP: Sue, thanks so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Susan Davis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.