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One Minnesota mayor on why communities need ‘deep soul searching’ after George Floyd’s death

Managing the lawful and peaceful protests that are continuing in Minnesota’s Twin Cities while preparing for the possibility of more violence is the job of state and local authorities. St. Paul, Minnesota Mayor Melvin Carter joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss what his city's next steps are in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Managing the lawful and peaceful protests that continue in the twin cities, while preparing for the possibility of more violence, is the job of state and local authorities.

    I spoke with St. Paul's mayor Melvin Carter earlier today about his city's next steps in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Mr. Mayor, I want to ask, what's the situation now? What have you learned from the events of last night?

  • Melvin Carter:

    The situation now continues to be an extreme amount of emotion, an extreme amount of frustration and of anger around the wrongful killing of George Floyd and certainly around the fact that we are still looking for some certainty that not just one, but all four of the officers who were responsible for his death will be held legally accountable.

    We asked our residents yesterday for a major thing, and that was through this curfew to stay home, to give us an opportunity to isolate the individuals who were hoping to do destruction to our neighborhoods, to separate those folks from the peaceful protesters.

    We really appreciate the work of our neighbors to stay home and in that to choose to channel this extreme sorrow and trauma that we've all been through, this extreme energy that we have right now, not into destroying our neighborhoods, but into building a better world for our children in the future.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Is it working? The National Guard deployments, the police presence, the requests for people to stay at home, the curfew?

  • Melvin Carter:

    We certainly saw a more stable and more peaceful night last night than we've seen in the previous nights.

    But I'll tell you this: The only thing that we can do through that show of force, through that law enforcement presence that we have right now in the immediate sense, is address the how how people are protesting.

    We have to know that that anger, that that rage is real, especially when we know that George Floyd's name is now on a too long list of African-American men, unarmed African-American men who've lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement.

    We've had a lot of focus on that over the last 10 years as we've seen it play out on camera phone videos. But we have to remember that what's new is camera phones. Those things have been playing out for decades and generations. And without without reprieve, this very understandable anger is being manifested in very unhealthy, unacceptable and destructive ways.

    But we're not asking people for patience. We're not asking people for pacifism. My hope is that everyone who is outraged to channel that energy not into destroying our neighborhoods and further traumatizing the same communities that have been traumatized so many times over and over and over again.

    But let's channel that energy into dismantling all of the laws and precedents and a police union contracts that makes it virtually impossible to hold officers accountable when we see something like what we saw last week.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Yesterday, there was some confusion about this. You and the governor had said that a lot of this was from people from out of town. Who's actually responsible for this and are you able to arrest them?

  • Melvin Carter:

    You know, we're working very closely with our law enforcement partners to get right to the bottom of who is behind all of the incitement of violence.

    One of the biggest tragedies of this is they're taking the focus away from where it should be. The focus should be on the fact that George Floyd should still be alive. Our focus should still be on pressing for accountability for those four officers, not just one, but the four officers who were responsible for taking his life.

    And on the deep soul searching work that we're going to have to do as a community and as a country to break this cycle and ensure this never happens again.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What does the city do going forward to try to make sure that not only are its citizens safe, but that you can address some of these deep inequalities that seem to be within the law enforcement system, the criminal justice system?

  • Melvin Carter:

    Well, I'll tell you, one of the things that's true about St. Paul is I ran for mayor as perhaps one of relatively few elected leaders around the country who knows what it feels like to be pulled over for driving while black.

    The question you just asked me is a central part of why I ran for mayor in the first place.

    We've worked in the past couple of years with our police departments to completely revise review and revise our use of force policies to completely engage to change how we operate with our civilian oversight board here locally.

    The things that we would do in St. Paul because we see these tragedies play out we've already been doing it over the past couple of years. This is why I'm challenging our young people, and I always say young people of all ages, who are passionate, who are on fire right now, who are angry right now to channel that energy.

    You can channel that energy in a way that puts you in these spaces that, you know, if you vote with that energy, if you engage with that energy, if you fill out your census with that energy, if you engage in your community with that energy and the legislative process at city hall in all of those different spaces, instead of being on the sidelines demanding that someone else on the inside makes different decisions, step into a decision making role, step into your role as a stakeholder owners of our community, of our city, of our country, and lead us forward into a new day.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Do you think that that is possible? I mean, unfortunately, we have a cycle where something like this happens. Everyone focuses on it for a while.

    What's different about this scenario? Is it COVID, is it the disproportionate impact that that's had on African-American and Latino communities? Is it I mean, you know, it's I don't want to seem cynical, but I feel like we're on this unfortunate loop?

  • Melvin Carter:

    You should seem cynical. If you're not cynical, then you're probably not paying attention to what's been going on in our country over the past 10, 20, 50, 400 years. You should absolutely be cynical, as am I.

    I would tell you, I'm experiencing what you just described. I grew up the son of a St. Paul police officer. My father spent nearly 30 years patrolling the streets of our city. And so I've gotten to experience this conversation that we're having, this paradox that we continue to have in our country on the front line, at the front level. And we are in the process of doing that deep work in St. Paul right now with a police chief, with a police department who's supportive of that work.

    But to your point, it's not completely surprising that I as an African-American young man, am standing here speaking to you about how wrong this is. I was talking to a group of older white men recently and they said, well, we don't need to be talking about this, mayor. You need to be talking about this. And I looked at them and I told them, listen, with all due respect, all of my friends already know, until you're talking about this, until this is something that every single person who can look at that video and say, I would never want to be treated that way. That's not the way. That's not the humanity that I want to be a part of.

    We have to have a different social contract between our police officers and our community members. And until we do, we cannot rest. We need a much broader set of people, of all races, of all ages, of all cultures, of all economic backgrounds who are looking at this video. And I talk to them in St. Paul.

    Our officers are disgusted by this video. Our CEOs are disgusted by this video. Our neighbors are disgusted by this video. And we need all of those people working together saying that to our judges, saying that to our police officers, saying that to our legislators and lawmakers, saying that to their neighbors and family members every time, every time we go. And that's the spirit. That's the American spirit of change, of progress, of momentum, of humanity that has created all of the movements that we've seen in our nation's history.

    That's what it's going to require to have this moment be different than all of those moments.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Mayor Melvin Carter of St. Paul, Minnesota, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Melvin Carter:

    Thanks for having me on.

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