YAMICHE ALCINDOR: A reckoning on race and politics.
AL SHARPTON: (From video.) Get your knee off our necks!
MS. ALCINDOR: As the nation marks the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, we look back at a year of turmoil and ahead to America’s unfolding racial reckoning.
SENATOR TIM SCOTT (R-SC): (From video.) You cannot make police officers the antagonists in the story.
MS. ALCINDOR: Also, Senate Republicans block the creation of a January 6th commission, next.
ANNOUNCER: This is Washington Week. Once again, from Washington, moderator Yamiche Alcindor.
MS. ALCINDOR: Good evening and welcome to a special edition of Washington Week.
George Floyd was murdered at the hands of the Minneapolis police 368 days ago. Tonight we’ll take a deep look at what has and has not changed since his death shocked the nation, but first to today’s breaking news. Just a few hours ago Senate Republicans carried out their very first filibuster since President Biden was elected. They succeeded in blocking the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the Capitol insurrection. Senate Democrats condemned their actions. Here’s Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY): (From video.) Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they’re afraid of Donald Trump.
MS. ALCINDOR: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, though, has consistently defended the position of most Republicans. Here’s what he had to say.
SENATE MINORITY LEADER MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): (From video.) I think this is a purely political exercise that adds nothing to the sum total of information.
MS. ALCINDOR: Joining us tonight to talk about all of this are four reporters who have covered racial justice and politics for years: Trymaine Lee, correspondent for MSNBC and host of the Into America podcast; Sara Sidner, senior national correspondent for CNN; and joining us in studio, Wesley Lowery, correspondent for 60 Minutes+; and Ayesha Rascoe, White House correspondent for NPR. Thank you so much, all of you, for joining us.
Ayesha, I want to start with you. Republicans, they took a bold, somewhat risky move here on this January 6th commission. What do we know about the risk that they’re taking in going all in on President Trump and the way that he sees the party’s direction, and what’s President Biden and the White House thinking about all this?
AYESHA RASCOE: Well, I think for Republicans they feel like they don’t have any other choice and it doesn’t seem like they have any other choice. They may want to move on from former President Trump, but their base doesn’t, and they realize that and they recognize that, and this is the party of Trump. And so I think what you saw with this vote today is that the don’t want to have a spotlight – a bipartisan spotlight on what happened because that’s going to be a spotlight on Trump and on his actions and what he said and what he did. And some of the things that they’re saying about, oh, it would be redundant, well, look, you had a 9/11 commission and there were lots of investigations into that. You had I don’t know how many Benghazi commissions – (laughs) – or –
MS. ALCINDOR: So many.
MS. RASCOE: You had a whole lot. They were partisan, obviously. But when has Congress not wanted to investigate something? And this was an attack on Congress. And what you see is that they’re not willing to go along with something that would shine a light on this, especially in an election year, and they have bet that it would be in their best interest to just stand against everything.
When it comes to the Biden administration, this can be another example where they say, look, we’re trying to work with Congress, we’re trying to get things done; we can’t even get a commission to study this attack on the U.S. This is a domestic threat. We can’t even get together on that. So when they start making the case that maybe on other issues we need to just move alone, this will be another thing they can point to.
MS. ALCINDOR: And Sara, I want to come to you. Ayesha’s talking about a domestic threat, and that is what this is. You’ve been on the ground talking to folks this week about conspiracy theories and QAnon. What does your reporting tell you about who Republicans are trying to ultimately appease here and the danger that presents to our country?
SARA SIDNER: You know, what we have seen now is that QAnon, this outlandish conspiracy theory that there is a cabal of shadowy forces that are in government and media and Hollywood that are literally sex trafficking children so that they can harvest them, drink their blood, and eat babies – I mean, that literally is this – part of this QAnon conspiracy – that and people with those sorts of sentiments are getting into politics. Not just the Marjorie Taylor Greenes; she is not an anomaly, and that’s something that this country is going to have to reckon with because we are now seeing it in statehouses and in local government, on city councils, on school boards, people who have espoused some of these tenets of this QAnon conspiracy. And what I think that I have learned over the course of time since January 6th and even prior to that – but since January 6th a lot of people thought that it would go away. It’s growing. It’s just at the beginning, not at the end, and that is what we are seeing. We’re seeing a resurgence of this madness of people believing that, OK, what happened then on January 6th was a result of the deep state stopping President Trump from being able to become president and clear out all these evil people. So what they think, now the Stop the Steal movement is joining up with the QAnoners and this is turning into a real problem for this country, because if you cannot rationalize and if you are not basing things that you are voting for on fact and if you are trying to make it an evil versus good, we’re in huge trouble.
MS. ALCINDOR: Sara, you put it so smartly and so succinctly, and you used the word “reckon.” And I want to now turn to what we wanted to focus on this week in this – and it’s – and it really is tied to what’s going on on Capitol Hill. It’s the one-year, of course, anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. Here’s some of what we saw in the aftermath of his killing.
GEORGE FLOYD: (From video.) I’m going to die, man!
MS. ALCINDOR: It was the nine minutes and 29 seconds that shook the world: the murder of George Floyd. One year ago this week, it was captured on cellphone video and posted online. Millions watched as a White Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on the neck of Floyd, an unarmed Black man pleading for his life. The outrage was immediate. Protests erupted in Minneapolis and in cities across America. Many chanted Floyd’s dying words.
PROTESTERS: (From video, chanting.) I can’t breathe!
MS. ALCINDOR: And within days there were demonstrations around the world.
PROTESTERS: (From video.) Black lives matter!
MS. ALCINDOR: Crowds demanded justice for Floyd and fundamental changes in policing. Through their pain, Floyd’s family also spoke out.
SHAREEDUH TATE: (From video.) Essentially, they executed him in front of us.
MS. ALCINDOR: Again and again.
TERRENCE FLOYD: (From video.) It’s a lot of us. It’s a lot of us.
MS. ALCINDOR: His young daughter, Gianna, told then-presidential candidate Joe Biden her father would change the world. Later, there was a six-and-a-half-week jury trial. Derek Chauvin, who had been fired after the incident, was found guilty of murder.
PHILONISE FLOYD: (From video.) I was ecstatic. I was excited.
MS. ALCINDOR: Chauvin faces sentencing on June 16th. Three other officers who acted alongside Chauvin are charged with aiding and abetting murder. Since George Floyd’s death, the nation has faced a racial reckoning on policing and society as a whole. A number of states passed policing reforms, but most of the systemic problems connected to Floyd’s death endure. President Biden said he wanted to sign a policing reform bill named after Floyd by Tuesday, the anniversary of his killing.
PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: (From video.) We have to come together.
MS. ALCINDOR: But that deadline came and went with no new law. At the White House, the day was marked by a meeting between President Biden and Floyd’s family –
BENJAMIN CRUMP: (From video.) We have to respect the spilled blood that’s on this legislation.
MS. ALCINDOR: – including little Gianna, while on Capitol Hill the bipartisan group negotiating on policing reform say they’re working through differences on key issues. But as they debate, Black people remain three times more likely to be killed by the police than White Americans, and more and more cases of contentious police killings continue to rock the nation.
Wesley, I want to come to you. We’ve seen so many people, unfortunately – so many Black people killed on video by police before George Floyd, after George Floyd. What do you think made, when you really think about it, the murder of George Floyd so different, and how has it changed the contours of the conversation?
WESLEY LOWERY: Well, I think that, as you know, we’ve seen these cases over and over and over again. Yamiche, you and I have been on the ground for a decade at this point covering these stories in various cities, sitting with various families, and George Floyd was far from the first. I do think his death changed the contours of this conversation, and a few of the reasons why: you know, one was that this was a death that was captured in full panoramic on video. There was no legitimate argument of, well, what happens before the tape begins, what about from the other angle. There were so many people out on that street videotaping, and it was so clear that the outrage of George Floyd’s death was not even just about the moment of the clash, but this elongated knee on his neck that I think almost anyone would agree was excessive.
Beyond that, though, I always think that these moments come in series. Now, George Floyd wasn’t just George Floyd. We had seen the Amy Cooper-Christian Cooper incident in Central Park in New York. Ahmaud Arbery had been shot and killed in Georgia, which was not a policing incident but was an incident that was potentially of racial profiling or racial targeting.
You had a populace of people who had been trapped inside their house all year at that point, and – or for several months at that point, at least, and then they saw this video of George Floyd. And people wanted to get on the streets, they wanted to do something, they wanted to change something. And I think that when you look at the year that has come afterwards, we’re having conversations, and there’s debates happening in cities, and municipalities, and states, about things like changing police funding, about whether or not armed officers need to be the ones responding to all these things – things that were relatively unthinkable in the mainstream conversation the day before George Floyd was killed.
MS. ALCINDOR: Trymaine, what Wesley’s talking about is really a changing of the conversation. You’re in Tulsa where there’s this 100-year anniversary of this terrible, terrible racist massacre – racial massacre.
Talk to me about how what happened in Tulsa connects to what we are talking about with George Floyd and what is really a history of violence against Black people.
TRYMAINE LEE: First of all, Yamiche, congratulations. I’ve said it privately; I’m going to say it publicly.
MS. ALCINDOR: Thank you.
MR. LEE: It’s an honor and a pleasure to be here with you, Yamiche.
But I think there’s a clear connect between what we saw – the kind of state, bloody violence we saw happen here in Tulsa in 1921 to what we saw here with the case of George Floyd and so many others, as you guys have already mentioned.
But I think there is a certain degree of anti-Blackness that America has always accepted because it’s not just an anomaly, right? It’s a feature of who we are as a country. And so even now when questions are raised about whether this is a racist country or not, we see the threads of racism still throughout.
And I think what we saw in George Floyd in that slow-motion death on a loop, I think exemplified the weight that the country has always placed on Black America. And when I think about the levels of violence that we – (inaudible, technical difficulties) – from 1921, that kind of bloody violence, that physical violence, but then there are all other kinds of violence that Black people have been inflicted with. When you think about just 1921 in Tulsa, you had the murder of hundreds of people where the White community bombed this city from the sky – the Greenwood neighborhood from the sky, gunned down women and children, mothers, set their businesses on fire, and then after that were blocked from rebuilding. And even during that time when they tried to make an insurance claim for the property that was damaged, these insurance companies cited a riot clause and put the onus on their own demise on the Black community.
And then you have the Jim Crow laws, and then you have redlining, and then you have urban renewal, and then you have gentrification – all violent. And I don’t think you can kind of parse out, you know, that kind of state violence we saw – we see with the police heaped upon the Black community, from the violence of hunger, from the violence of being clustered in the communities where the air is even worse, and the soil is worse, and the pipes that pump in the water into your house is filled with lead, and your children suffer the pangs of all of those things.
And so I think the clear connection is that the framing around our lived experience as Black people creates this kind – these kinds of moments, and I think George Floyd, for a moment at least, exemplified that. But I would caution that – whether this is justice or not because I don’t think Black folks have ever truly experienced justice. Justice is preventing us from being in those situations in the first place, not the least of which is the way we are policed in America.
MS. ALCINDOR: Sara, I want to come to you. Trymaine is talking about really this kind of – all of the tentacles of racism that touch Black people’s lives all over this country. When you think about this idea about the entire system of policing in particular, activists always say this is not just one bad apple; this is an entire system. What does your reporting tell you about that?
MS. SIDNER: You know, what’s fascinating is what is happening down in George Floyd Square, and I’ll use that as a microcosm. The activists there, who are – many of whom are residents, they have really come up with these demands. There are 24 of them that they have been asking from the city, and it’s fascinating to look at those demands because it tells you a little something about how this racial reckoning – how they see it and how they want to try and solve this issue. They realize it is far bigger than policing, and I think sometimes we get stuck on this rung of, you know, the policing aspect.
But just as you heard Trymaine say, I mean, we’re talking about things like redlining, right, and not being able to get a loan from a bank because of the color of your skin. It’s still happening. And so what they have looked at is, hey, can the city please give us some money, and set aside some money for, for example, health care in the area. Can we deal with the food desert that may exist in the area? Can we deal with the businesses and see if we can give them a boost so that they can do well? There are many Black-owned businesses – and Black- and brown-owned businesses in the area – revitalizing the area so that children have a place to play and enjoy themselves.
And so those things they are asking for – and they’ve come up with this moniker: No Justice No Streets. And there’s a lot of consternation around it because the streets – all of them surrounding George Floyd Square – there are four different streets that come into a cross-section there, an intersection – they’ve all been blocked off. The city put down barriers because there were thousands of people out there. And those who were there and tending to the memorial to this day, more than a year after George Floyd was killed, are saying we don’t want those barriers taken down until some of our demands – or many of our demands are met. That is causing obvious controversy because there are neighbors there that don’t feel the same way. But they are going about this and hoping for a holistic reckoning; not just a reckoning with police.
MS. ALCINDOR: A holistic reckoning – that is – I think it really in some ways ties to all of the things that we are talking about. Ayesha, I was reading a bunch of polls, getting ready for the show. There was this real spike in support for Black Lives Matter, and then we saw this real drop-off. When you look at the numbers, the drop-off was really about, in some ways – White Americans in particular – not supporting Black Lives Matter in the same way as Black people and people of color. What does that tell you about the limits of this conversation, what we haven’t learned when it comes to this racial reckoning?
MS. RASCOE: I think the issue is America has these racial reckonings, but then America goes back to this mean, to this where – it goes back to where it’s comfortable. And so you had the murder of George Floyd that rocked the country, but it did not change the country, right? Like there are still changes that need to be made.
And a lot of politicians – and you can see the rhetoric around this has gone back to a lot of the – you know, at the time when this happened, you had Mitt Romney, Republican, going, Black Lives Matter, right? And now you have people going back into their corners and saying, look, Black Lives Matter – oh, they’re socialist; oh, they’re this; oh, they’re a threat; oh – you know, critical race theory; this and that.
It’s a way of saying, look, Black Lives Matter – they were asking for all these things, this is not a real issue. We need to get back to, you know, bread and butter issues; not about this. And for those people that felt a little bit uncomfortable, once things started getting talked about beyond just policing – and you’re talking about these larger issues, you’re talking about food deserts, all these other things. When you start talking about that and making real changes, people get uncomfortable, and you get back into this place of, well, you know what? I think crime is going up. I’m concerned, you know – I don’t know that we need so much change so fast. And so you see politicians now capitalizing on that.
MS. ALCINDOR: You know, Wesley, Ayesha really went to a place – there are a couple of places that you went that I wanted to – (laughter). The one that I’m going to go to before I go to this other one is let’s talk about crime and the spike in crime in cities – Ayesha mentioned it. What is the correlation, if at all, between this spike in crime and George Floyd’s death? You have Republicans trying to, in some ways, blame it on the racial justice movement for why we’re seeing crime go up.
MR. LOWERY: Sure. So to start off, one, crime is really complicated. It always is. Very often the way we talk about it in our politics, even in the media, is wildly oversimplified, right, and that we still don’t have really good ideas about why crime spiked during some decades in the past, much less last year or last month, right? But one thing we know is that America’s major cities have seen an uptick in homicide. Not all of them have seen an uptick in violent crime writ large, but – and many of them have seen an uptick in murder. And that uptick in a lot of places began in late 2019, well before George Floyd was killed, and in some cases before the pandemic had even begun.
That uptick has continued. It continued throughout 2020, so through George Floyd, through the protests that happened, through the fall and the winter afterwards, and in many places, has continued so far this year. And so, because of that, you know, there’s any number of questions, right? The first is that we all know last year was an outlier year. It was a – it was a – it was a global pandemic, and think about the types of things that happened. There was an economic downturn that came from that. There was a shift in literally how we physically live our lives – where we go, how we move; people couldn’t physically go in to work. And it – and it made worse many issues that already existed. Social services were shut down. There weren’t afterschool programs. There weren’t, you know, Beat the Streets basketball games. Why? Because no one was allowed out of their house.
Beyond that, though, we have seen an ongoing state of play in American policing where police officers themselves say they’re discouraged, they feel like they’ve been villainized. They are saying that they’re stepping back in some cases. There’s an open question, I mean, when you look at some of the cities that have seen the biggest spikes – be it Seattle, Portland, Louisville, Minneapolis – these are places that have seen intense street protest, intense clashes, and I think it would be naive to write off the idea that there’s any connection between those two things even if it’s not quite fair to say, well, this was because of the protests that all this violence is happening everywhere.
MS. ALCINDOR: Yeah, Trymaine, I want to – another thing that Ayesha said – and of course Wesley, you were brilliant, but I – (laughter) – I was thinking about something else that Ayesha said that I need to follow about, and that is she brought up critical race theory, she brought up people getting uncomfortable talking about the history of slavery, the consequences that people live with every day. Talk to me a bit about how you see this conversation, really this argument, that is in some ways very one sided, this argument against truth and what we all see and know to be the consequences of racism in this country?
MR. LEE: I don’t know if you all have ever seen that meme of the kind of twin Spider-Mans pointing at each other and they look exactly the same. I think in America the more we shine that light into the dark spaces and reveal, you know, the nature of this country and what we’ve seen at least historically, I think a lot of White people will get very uncomfortable with that because it means you’re going to have to confront and have a true reckoning with who you are and how you see yourself. And so if the veneer is cracked at all and the pieces start to fall, how comfortable will they be with what they see? And I think there are so many of us, whether we’re Black journalists or just Black people who have experienced life in America, we know all too well the realities of this country and what has been. And so I think when we start to, you know, scale up this conversation that we’re having right here and show that racism is not just, you know, a little nugget here, a little nugget there, and it casts a shadow over every institution, and that when we build the pathway to the present and you build this moment in time and this moment in time and this moment in time, what you come up with is a systemic – the systemic nature of racism. And so I think some of it is they’re afraid of it and they don’t want to get too uncomfortable, but also the powers that be have done a great job of casting this kind of dreamlike state over America where they just don’t know, right? We think about the Tulsa – just, again, because I’m here and I’ve been reporting on this for a number of weeks – is how many people in this community, White folks in particular, who have never heard of this story. They were never taught about this story in school. There was an intentional burying of this, and all the forces that be are complicit, from local, state, and government officials and community leaders, right, all across the board. And so I think we’re at this – not to use the raw term reckoning again, but we are at this moment. I would probably call it a convulsing. A reckoning means you’re actually going to have to deal with it, and you’re standing there face to face with it, and we’re not there yet. We’re just convulsing under the implications of it.
MS. ALCINDOR: Convulsing; that’s, I think, a way to put it for sure, and a smart way to put it. While George Floyd – I want to also talk about what’s going on in terms of the changes that we’re trying to see and not see in some ways in terms of – in terms of our country. While George Floyd’s death led to millions of Americans to protest, Congress still hasn’t passed policing reform. Republicans and Democrats are trying to work out a deal, but so far they’re not on the same page.
SENATOR TIM SCOTT (R-SC): (From video.) In 2015, after the shooting of Walter Scott, I wrote a bill to fund body cameras. Last year, after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, I built an even bigger police reform proposal – but my Democratic colleagues blocked it. But I’m still working. I’m hopeful that this will be different.
REPRESENTATIVE JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): (From video.) I’m going to accept whatever they come up with. I may not be happy with it, but I’m going to accept it. And one thing I’ve learned in this business, you aren’t – you aren’t always happy with the product but you really try to do the best you can to get to where we ought to be.
MS. ALCINDOR: Sara, I want to come to you. Talk to me a little bit about how all that we’ve been talking about has, you think, impacted how this is unfolding in Congress, especially from the ground up when you’ve – in the communities that you’ve been reporting in?
MS. SIDNER: I think you can look at Congress, again, as a microcosm – although it’s almost the macrocosm, but the microcosm – because I want to sort of take you to Minneapolis. Right after this happened, the streets were filled with people. There was intense anger. There was intense emotion. There was intense sorrow. There was an intense push to change things and change them immediately and for good. The initial reaction from the Minneapolis City Council was to replace the entire police system, the entire police department, with a different department that they called something like the Department of Public Safety, right? So that was a nonstarter. What you ended up getting is banned choke – banned chokeholds, you know, banned neck restraints, no-knock warrants –
MS. ALCINDOR: It’s tough, but we are about to have to wrap in a minute. I’m sorry to cut you off. I think all of that, what we talked about, has been so important, so I – we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much, Trymaine, Sara, Wesley, and Ayesha, for your time. This has been such a crucial conversation. Thank you for joining us for this special edition of the show. Make sure you join us for our Washington Week Extra. There I’m not going to cut off Sara. Catch it live at 8:30 Eastern on Facebook, YouTube, and our website.
I’m Yamiche Alcindor. Good night from Washington.