BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again. Day 1,225 of the Trump administration. 159 days out from our Presidential Election.
As you well know by now, we`re keeping an eye on Minneapolis tonight, a third night of protests there. Now smoke is rising as well from its twin city, St. Paul. All of it, of course, following the death of George Floyd, the unarmed man whose death was watched on video with a knee to his neck for several minutes on end, under forcible police custody in the street.
We have new video tonight showing several officers on the ground as Floyd is being held down. No charges have been filed in this case, and that, to many people, is the problem. A news conference today was frustratingly news-free. We`ll have much more on all of it just ahead.
For the very latest from Minneapolis, we want to go back now to Correspondent Ali Velshi, who is on the ground in the middle of tonight`s protest.
Ali, having watched your live coverage, you were at the scene of that huge fire earlier. We`ve watched fires start back up, and obviously you`re in the thick of it again now.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Let me tell you what`s happened. We are now right in front of the third precinct. This is the third precinct. The (inaudible) for instance calm down. We saw early protesters had gotten in. Now they made their way through on that side. And the fire where we`re looking at was about a block and a half over there. The protesters are continuing to try and get into the police station.
Now, this is where the tension has arisen between the police and the protesters because as the protesters have made their way to the police station, they have -- the police have responded with flash bangs and with tear gas.
And this is now what you`re seeing. They`re right up against the police station. They`ve actually made their way in there, Brian. That`s what you`re seeing right now. What we didn`t know earlier today was who was in the police station. Then we saw several police, first on the roof, then on the corner shooting back.
What we know is there are police in there, and they`re on the roof. So at this moment, we`re waiting cautiously to see what`s going on. Now, context, Brian, for most of the day this has been remarkably peaceful. It got very aggressive about two hours ago, and it has continued, and that`s what we`re looking at right now.
So what you`ve got is protesters still surrounding the police station. Tear gas is being thrown out every now and then. The protesters push back. They then come back, and now we`re back in that cycle. But you can now see they`re breaking all the glass windows to the police station. Most of them have been boarded up. On the second levels, they haven`t been, and you can see that they`re trying to get into the police station. That seems to be the objective tonight, to breach the station and sort of claim some sort of control over it. And that is what you`re looking at now. We`ll continue to follow this closely as it develops, Brian.
WILLIAMS: All right, Ali, you and your crew please be safe out there. We`ll be back with you.
This is all happening, of course, as we`re in the midst of a pandemic that has brought about a staggering death toll in our country and crushed the economy in our country. 101,961 Americans have died from coronavirus. This morning the President did finally acknowledge the toll with a post that read in part, "We have just reached a very sad milestone with the coronavirus pandemic deaths reaching 100,000. To all of the families and friends of those who have passed, I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy and love for everything that these great people stood for and represent. God be with you."
Note, that was posted 9:37 Eastern Time this morning. We were already well past the 100,000 death toll.
Tonight, the Centers for Disease Control estimating that, "total COVID-19 deaths are likely to exceed 115,000 by June the 20th." Amid all this, the President is beginning to turn his focus to issues that have resonated with his base before as he turns his attention to re-election. Today at a briefing on the coming hurricane season, he appeared to cast the pandemic in terms of immigration policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re setting records on the border in terms of low numbers. Very few people are getting in, and when they are in, we take them immediately out. We`re up to almost 200 miles of wall. We`ll have, by the end of the year, close to 400. By early next year, we`ll be close to 500 miles. Mexico does have some great, great, big problems with COVID. Their record number and a very high number even if you look worldwide, it`s a very high number. And we are not letting people into our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Trump has also promised this would, "be a big day for social media and fairness." The President eager to gin up distraction has now escalated his fight with Twitter, which has started adding fact checks to his and other postings. Trump has accused social media companies of being biased against conservatives. Today Trump signed an executive order with vastly unclear enforcement power that could lead to penalties for social media companies that fail to police content.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: They`ve had unchecked power to censor, restrict, edit, shape, hide, alter virtually any form of communication between private citizens or large public audiences. One egregious example is when they try to silence views that they disagree with by selectively applying a fact-check, fact-check. My executive order calls for new regulations under section 230 of the communications decency act to make it that social media companies that engage in censoring or any political conduct will not be able to keep their liability shield.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Trump apparently signed the order while out of sight of the media. The statute he referred to, section 230, generally spared tech companies from being sued or held liable for most posts, photos, videos shared by users. We`ll have more on all of that ahead.
As we mentioned, the economic crisis triggered by this virus shows no signs of easing across our country. Over 2 million people filed for unemployment claims just last week, and over 40 million have lost their jobs that we know of over the past ten weeks. That`s about the population of California where, by the way, an estimated one in four are out of work.
CNBC reporting that some Americans have returned to work. The unemployment rate for May, though, still expected at 20%. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reporting the White House has decided it will not release updated economic projections for this summer. And while you can guess why, today Trump`s economic adviser said this shouldn`t be viewed as an effort to hide something.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re extremely transparent. We`re every day talking about what we think the economy is going to be doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: With all of this, the President will also now have to grapple with the reverberations from the death of George Floyd. Federal and local authorities are investigating his killing. Earlier today, Trump was asked for his thoughts on the matter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you spoken to the family of George Floyd yet?
TRUMP: No, I haven`t, but I feel very, very badly. That`s a very shocking sight. That was a very, very bad thing that I saw. I saw it last night, and I didn`t like it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think those police officers should be prosecuted?
TRUMP: I`m not going to make any comment right now. I can tell you I think what I saw was not good, was not good. Very bad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Here for our leadoff discussion on a busy Thursday night, Kimberly Atkins, Senior Washington Correspondent for WBUR, Boston`s NPR News Station. John Heilemann, National Affairs Analyst for us, Co-host of The Circus on Showtime, Editor in Chief at The Recount. And Sam Stein, Politics Editor at The Daily Beast.
Good evening and welcome to you all. So, Kim, we have flames visible in not one, but two U.S. cities. We have a pandemic and the resulting death toll. How is the President handling these dual story lines, or is he not, and does that explain Twitter today?
KIMBERLY ATKINS, WBUR SENIOR NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I think it`s the latter is clearly the case. He is not focusing on the thing that is touching Americans most directly either in the trauma of yet another death at the hands of a police officer of an unarmed black person nor the burgeoning economic crisis that is gripping the country just as the health crisis continues to do so. There`s very little attention on that. There`s much more focus on the things that the President likes to focus on, particularly in an election year. And the Twitter fight represents the fact that he tends to gravitate politically toward grievance fights. He sees this as a grievance fight with Twitter, who he repeatedly says has silenced him or silenced conservatives. In his case, his tweet wasn`t taken down. He wasn`t silenced.
And also cracking down -- the head of state cracking down on a platform like Twitter reminds me of, even long before I went to law school, learning that in the United States we don`t have the sedition acts. It is not a crime to speak out or criticize government or push back with facts. It`s precisely what the first amendment is supposed to protect. So there are 100 legal problems with this executive order, including -- it`s unclear whether he can force the federal communications commission to do anything because it is an independent agency. But that`s not what this is about. This isn`t about actually enforcing the law. It`s about having something to express a grievance toward the media, anti-conservative bias claims. And he`s gravitating toward that even as, again, we`re seeing a nation being torn apart not just by a pandemic, not just by the economic impact, but now for its 400-year struggle with race and inequality that we`re seeing playing out on our TV tonight.
WILLIAMS: Hey, John Heilemann, when do the subjects get so large and dire and urgent-seeming that it alters his ability to change the subject?
JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I don`t know if it ever does, Brian. I mean the President seems to have an infinite capacity to try to change the subject. I`m not sure that -- I think the question is not whether he will continue to try but whether he`ll be successful. And I do think that, you know, we are in this moment where for a lot of Americans who have -- there`s obviously a bunch of people on the right, and a bunch of people on the left. A bunch of people on the right who love Donald Trump, a bunch of people on the left who hate him. There`s a lot of people in the middle who are just tired. They`re tired of the chaos, and they`re tired of the division. They`re tired of all -- I`m not used to -- you know, going around and spending a lot of time during the midterms and during the early part of the presidential campaign, you hear it all the time from people who are not particularly ideological and not particularly on either side of this great cultural and political divide that we have, who just sort of want things to come down and get back to what they think of as normal.
And I think, you know, if you pile on, you think about the economic casualties here, you think about the -- obviously the public health casualties, 100,000 dead, the number still rising, and then you start to throw on these additional kind of uprisings around America, the social division and the fact that the President seems to a lot of people in the middle to be fomenting that division rather than trying to quell it, to kind of feast off of division rather than unity. He`s going to try to keep changing the subject. But I`m not sure. I think you may be on to something, I think the instinct of your question, which is the sense that these things are now so large that no matter how much Trump tries to make people look the other direction, that he will not be successful even though he will continue to try.
WILLIAMS: Indeed, Sam Stein, Susan Glasser over at The New Yorker writes the following. In recent months, his tweeting appears to have taken an even darker, more manic, more mendacious turn as Trump struggles to manage the convergence of a massive public health crisis and a simultaneous economic collapse while running for re-election. Sam, is this some version, his version, of a slow rolling, never to be admitted to panic?
SAM STEIN, POLITICS EDITOR, "THE DAILY BEAST": Let me just add to what John said. I`m tired. I`m exhausted. I think everyone else is tired too. It`s a nonstop roller coaster of a presidency. It`s almost impossible to wrap your head around the fact that he was impeached not too long ago. We went through an impeachment process. That seems like it was a different lifetime, but it was just merely another chapter in his first term in office.
I think the manicness of his Twitter feed sort of reflects one singular thing, though, which is that he looks at his possibility of being re- elected and is he nervous. His standing has not improved. If anything, it`s gotten worse. And at this juncture, he does like to change the subject because these are two main topics, the pandemic and these riots that are erupting, that are deeply uncomfortable for him. Both require a bit of empathy, which he clearly lacks, but the other one requires the sort of presidential healing that is difficult for any President to pursue, but especially this one around issues of race. And so I think he doesn`t want to change the subject, and I think his Twitter feed is really a reflection of his aid and insecurity about his political prospects in November.
WILLIAMS: To our guests and to our audience, I have to go back to Minneapolis, where Ali Velshi is still standing by live. And Ali, it would appear there is a fire now behind the third precinct police headquarters.
VELSHI: Well, Brian, I need a helicopter to tell me for sure what`s going on because I see a fire on the other side of it too. So it appears there are fires on both sides of the third precinct. This one`s a parking lot. These are police vehicles. The crowd managed to get past the fence, and has set fire to some vehicles in the parking lot. There are no police cruisers here. They`re ancillary vehicles. But I`m looking over there. Maybe you all can get a shot of this. The other side of the building, there`s a fire there as well. Then there`s a fire at the liquor store down there. And there`s another fire behind us over there. So we have several fires going on. We still have no meaningful police presence here.
There are -- we do know that there are five or six police officers in there. They`ve been the ones with the flash bangs. You can still hear them from time to time. I`ve not seen tear gas in the last little while, but there are real efforts to get into that police station over there, and we now do appear to have fires on both sides of it right now.
We`re also hearing some reports about other fires going on in the city. So this is -- and I see helicopters above us, so there might be a better shot of this than I`ve got. But right now, the protesters are very, very focused on this police station. We`re hearing a lot of noises. It`s obviously gone dark, so other than the flames, we can`t see as much. But there are efforts to get into that building. And we do not know what the status is of the police officers who are in there.
The relevance of this building is that this is where the four police officers who were fired in connection with the death of George Floyd were based. So this -- a few years ago there were protests at the fourth precinct. There were encampments outside of there. Now it`s the third precinct. This is now where all of the attention is tonight. Brian.
WILLIAMS: Ali, we are indeed, while you`ve been talking, looking at a helicopter shot of one of the fires near you. Just a quick question about crowd size, and we should state for the record any attempt to say this is a crowd of black protesters is both unfair and inaccurate. Minneapolis is a very diverse city. Minnesota, as a state, is 7% black. I have seen all kinds of folks in that crowd around you. Has the crowd increased or decreased since we lost daylight?
VELSHI: Yes, so it`s harder to tell. There were always -- there was always a crowd at the intersection in front of the precinct. That`s sort of been the center of speeches and protests and things like that. Then there was a larger crowd in the parking lot across the street where you may have seen earlier there`s a target and a number of stores. And that`s a very large parking lot. It`s right on the corner. So the crowd was in the thousands at various times. Very hard to tell at this point, but you do make a very important point. The crowd`s diverse, and I`ve had a lot of people come up to me, and they`ve got real complaints about systemic prejudice. Some of it is about specifically what`s happened. Some of it is protesting the police. But a lot of it is systemic stuff that they`re saying, look, Minnesota has experienced a lot of it. America is experiencing a lot of it. We`ve got videos, we now have videos from three angles. What`s the Hennepin County attorney worrying about? What are they doing? And there`s a lot of anger out there tonight.
Obviously, this will be the center of it because this was something that was geared around four police officers and George Floyd, so this is the center of it. But the conversation here is diverse, and it is about social justice issues broadly and remembering George Floyd. Every few minutes, you`ll hear Black Lives Matter. You`ll hear them say his name, and you`ll hear protests. But this is a protest. It`s not something else. There`s a protest because people are very angry about what they`ve seen this week, not just here but across America, Brian.
WILLIAMS: One more issue that you raise, Ali. A lot of tonight was frustration that the news conference today was so short on news. I`m the first one to try to give public officials the benefit of the doubt, but nothing came out of that that was going to change the equation tonight. The U.S. attorney speaking with such pride that she had spoken personally with Attorney General Bill Barr as if the protesters were going to say, oh, OK, we`ll lay down our arms tonight and call the whole thing off. It gave no satisfaction to that community.
VELSHI: And the satisfaction that folk here want, they`ve been getting it from a lot of quarters by the way. There are a lot of people across Minnesota, a lot of police chiefs, a lot of public official who were saying, look I saw the same video, you saw. It seems obvious to me there was wrongdoing. So, they`re taking some solace in that.
But the other problem that`s right below the surface here and it`s not -- we`re not in and amongst it right now, Brian, but the National Guard is here. And this is something that has got this crowd very, very concerned. There`s concern about the militarization of the police, and there`s concern about the National Guard being here.
The mayor told Rachel earlier it was a tough decision. They really want to maintain order. But this crowd is very worried about a big militarized police presence. A few moments ago, we saw the biggest presence, or the biggest from presence of some sort of sirens. It`s dark, so I can`t tell whose they are, going by here but they`ve not come into this area. And that`s interesting because there are fires burning, and there are lots of crowds. But there does seem to be an effort to not get into a direct confrontation with the protesters tonight. But these protesters are very, very frustrated with the ideas that there`s lots of policing in and around the area, but they`re not getting what they believe the justice is that they`re looking for, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Also, Ali, you can`t be responsible for watching two scenes at once. But to your east in St. Paul, they`re getting all the violence they can take downtown tonight, and their mayor has put out a request for National Guard presence there to reinforce the local police lines because all leave is canceled. All shifts are working, and they`re up against exhaustion in terms of crowd control, I imagine.
VELSHI: And we`ve got something -- I`ve just heard something happen behind me. The fire in the parking lot seems to have spread closer now to the building, and more fencing has come down. People are going into the police station. The reason this is so important -- what are we looking at? We`ve got a fire over on that side and on this side. The reason this is so important, Brian, is that we do know that there`s still a police presence in there. So, at some juncture, if the crowd doesn`t back off enough and the police are not succeeding with their tear gas, which is aggravating the crowd, it`s doing nothing.
That one area, every canister of tear gas that lands doesn`t make everybody more peaceful about the whole operation. There`s some concern about what the police are going to do to ensure that they don`t lose their police precinct tonight, this symbolic place. So this continues to be a very hot spot. And, again, we`re continuing to look around us to see what the police presence is, and there seems to be a strategic decision that while the National Guard is here in Minneapolis, they are not here on this scene, which is the focus of most of the protests tonight.
WILLIAMS: And I have to believe that Minneapolis fire battalion chiefs are watching this live coverage via us and all the local stations that are on wall to wall, aware of the fire, aware of the fire encroaching on police headquarters. But the situation last night held them back. They could not drive apparatus into some of these scenes to fight fires. The largest of the buildings was six stories high. The widest was the AutoZone, and I imagine they are up against it again tonight, Ali.
VELSHI: That six-story building is now a one-story building, and it`s just a gutted shell. It`s just a block up from the AutoZone. The AutoZone is completely destroyed. The fire you saw about an hour ago that Morgan Chesky was at. They weren`t able to get their engines in there. There was a small presence, but they weren`t able to fight the fire until the protesters left. And by that time, the building had mostly been gutted. So that is a major concern.
And, again, I`m going to point behind me there. Miguel is going to focus on there`s a fire on the other side. Now we can`t get there, and I don`t know what`s burning, but it appears to be adjacent to the police station, if not the police station. It might be across the road. I can`t get a good sense of it from where I am. And this is a very dynamic crowd, so we`re cautious about the way we move through it to not antagonize anyone. But it does appear that the protesters are looking to squeeze the police out of this building and take control of it because they`ve got fires on both sides of the third precinct. The third side of it, by the way, there`s two sides exposed. This side is the parking lot. That`s already been breached. The fourth side is an alley. And beside the alley is a fire station. The fire station has been closed. The fire station is completely boarded up. So the fires in this area are not being responded to by the fire department in this area. They`ve just closed that up, and these buildings are now the focus of attention.
WILLIAMS: And, Ali, watching your earlier work, I saw some members of the third precinct come out with a weapon that looked like it was going to be used for non-lethal protection or tear gas canisters. And I presume they were based there in the third part of the group of police officers that was also visible on the roof.
VELSHI: Yes. So we can`t tell because we couldn`t identify which police officers or which were the same group. But first they appeared on the roof with those weapons in which they were firing the tear gas canisters. Then they appeared right here next to me on the ground level. That was surprising to us because with thousands of people here and this antagonistic situation, we were surprised -- here it is. There`s the fire. It does appear that that fire is the police station.
You can see this now. That is -- that fire appears to be the liquor store across the road from the police station, but you know see smoke billowing out of the police station. Miguel, let`s see if we can just get on that angle. It looks like the police station is now having -- has caught fire.
Brian, it`s a brick building. It`s got two parts to it. The part we were standing in front of was the older part of the precinct. There`s a modern sort of addition to it over here and there are flames coming out of it. The third precinct Minneapolis Police Station is now on fire, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Yes, I see that. To our viewers, it is the building where you can see -- there it is -- window frames that have been knocked out in the past 24 hours. There`s a stanchion that comes out at the entrance and what appears to have been a fire set at the exterior. To Ali`s reporting may have spread to the interior now. And Ali that`s going to get dizzy. And as you keep pointing out, symbolically, it`s their stand. It`s their neighborhood precinct.
VELSHI: Masks on, masks on, guys. Masks on. We got gas. Brian, hang on a second while I just stick the mask on.
WILLIAMS: No problem.
VELSHI: All right. There we go. So, yes, here`s the problem, Brian. I don`t know how well you can still hear me. But when the police boarded up the entrance, they covered it up with plywood. The windows got covered up with plywood yesterday as they put up barriers. When the barriers were breached, they then had the ability to light the plywood on fire, which is apparently where it started. They can use any accelerant they`ve got and set that on fire. And that is apparently what started that burning over here.
So now you have a liquor store over there fully engulfed, and you have the police station here fully engulfed. The building right behind me which you can`t see is the fire station, which will obviously be in danger as the police station goes up.
And again, through your very important point, Brian, there is no ability to bring -- I`m going to take off the mask. There is no ability to bring in the fire brigade. There`s no way they`re going to clear the streets and bring fire engines in here at this point. So what we are dealing with is a situation where there`s a fully involved fire on both sides of the street and no ability to put it out. So this -- And you can see the protesters are completely lined up in front of it. I think you can probably see that image. They are there celebrating symbolically that they have taken control of the police station.
Now, here`s the question we don`t have an answer to, Brian. We know there are or were, to my count, I think at least five police officers that I could see. They might have been the same ones on the roof as were in the back. We don`t know where those police officers are, but the front entrance, the main entrance to the police station is now in flames. There`s no sign of police, and there`s more debris going on. There`s firecrackers being put off by the protesters in all directions. They list firecrackers in the parking lot. You can see that. There`s now -- there`s a police presence on top of the building. Miguel, you see that? There is somebody on top of the building, and we are hearing flash bangs. We`re seeing smoke. Don`t know if it`s tear gas. And those are firecrackers that you`re seeing being blown off by the protesters, Brian.
WILLIAMS: I will be amazed if Minneapolis fire doesn`t at least try to get apparatus in there. Think of what you lose when you lose a police headquarters.
VELSHI: I can`t see it, Brian. There`s no way. These streets are completely clogged in all direction. The earlier fire was only one block over there, and they couldn`t get there. It wasn`t even in the center of things. Without a very heavy presence guard, there`s no chance. There are thousands of people on the street.
I get your point that to let a police station burn is symbolically an important matter for them to consider. But there`s no chance of fire trucks getting in here at this point without a very heavy intervention by the authorities or by the National Guard.
I have to tell you, I just keep on emphasizing that. They`re not here. We`re not seeing that presence. We know the National Guard`s in town. I saw heavily armed vehicles on my way here earlier, but there are no police vehicles. There are no armored carriers. There`s no National Guard in the vicinity. But there are a lot of firecrackers.
WILLIAMS: Yes. They would need a hell of an escort to get through that crowd as you appropriately point out. We remind the folks watching what happens when a police headquarters catches fire. Don`t forget the ammunition store that`s in every police station. Don`t forget the years and years of records, personal effects, and all of that. That discussion is separate and apart from the anger fueling this fire.
This visual, and knowing this visual of a burning police station, which everyone around the world can identify with, this picture will go around the world. This will not go over well, Ali, and this is the kind of thing governors, mayors, members of Congress, presidents of the United States will be forced to react to.
VELSHI: All right, Brian, I have to tell you, the mood here has changed to celebratory. There`s music playing now. There are actual firecrackers being set off in the parking lot across the road. There is a sense of jubilation amongst the crowd that this symbolic place has been taken.
It`s actually -- these are firecrackers. These are not flash bangs. These are actually firecrackers being put on by the protesters. This will soon become a dangerous situation because that building is about to become engulfed in flames, and the protesters -- think of the image. Look at the image. You`re watching this live on TV. This will be an image that we are going to be looking at for years to come. These are protesters with their hands up, outside a burning police station which was home to four police officer who were involved in the death of George Floyd.
This is the symbol, their silhouettes with the fire behind them. But there`s a public safety issue here too. There are lots and lots of people here. There is no way of getting the fire department in here. And this is an area where buildings are closely spaced next to each other. So there`s a real threat this fire over here across the road, you just look at the liquor store, it now appears to be spreading. You`re hearing them chant "George Floyd, George Floyd."
They`re saying, "what`s his name, George Floyd, what`s his name, George Floyd."
Now, Brian, I will tell you that there`s not a sense of organization to this. This crowd had actually thinned out earlier when a crowd made a push toward the police station. There were barricades all around it that have been installed in the last 24 hours. They pushed the barricades down. And reignited the crowd and then the police came out and fired upon.
So the fact this has now given this crowd more fuel. The crowd has become much, much thicker than it was in the last hour, and at some point -- I make the point that there seems to be a spontaneity to it, which is a bit worrisome because there are now thousands of people in this tight area in which there are fires burning in a few places.
And every now and then when you do see the police presence police -- at this point, for instance, what we`ve been seeing for the last two hours is gas canisters coming out. If a gas canister were to come out from the police station, it would land within 25 feet of us. That`s about the distance that they`ve got from the police station. That would be chaotic at this point. So at this point this becomes a bit dangerous.
Now, you can see the crowd is quieting down quite a bit now. There`s a lot of various. There are people silently in protest with their arms up, but they`re watching this moment. It`s this point, there cannot be more reaction. There cannot be no reaction from the authorities.
What these people have been wanting to see is something more. The charges laid against those four police officers. They have not seen that. They`ve been unsatisfied. Know with the burning of a police station -- there were many buildings burned last night. With the burning of a police station, the whole dynamic of this protest changes, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Ali Velshi outside the scene of at least two major fires behind him. Let`s talk to an elected representative about what she sees in her hometown. Hodan Hassan, her district in the Minnesota statehouse includes part of the City of Minneapolis. She also happens to be a member of the Minnesota`s People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, who this week called on state officials to file criminal charges against all of the officers responsible.
Thank you very much for joining us. All people who love the City of Minneapolis and the twin city of St. Paul feel similarly about what we`re seeing on camera. But we also are following this municipal saga following the death of George Floyd. If you had a megaphone to speak to that crowd, representative, what would you say tonight?
REP. HODAN HASSAN (D-MN), STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Thank you for inviting me to this conversation. If I had a megaphone, I would tell the crowd to not burn down the city. This is my neighborhood. This is my city, and watching it in flames is very painful. But we also have to understand what has caused this rage and what has caused this anger.
We all have watched the brutal murder of George Floyd. That was in daylight in the middle of, you know, south Minneapolis. Four police officers were involved. And what these people are asking is for these four police officers to be charged.
I don`t condone violence and destruction of property. I don`t want my city to be destroyed. I don`t want my neighborhood to be a war zone. But I also want to highlight that this rage and this anger, the root cause of all of this is these officers still walking free.
People are just fed up with this injustice. We have seen it happen over and over and over. This has to stop, and I think that what these protesters are doing -- right now everything is chaotic and out of control.
But the intent of this protest was to show our leadership, to show the city, to show the police leadership, the city leadership that we have to do something about what just happened. It cannot be another murder just buried under the books.
But right now what`s happening is a heartache. What`s happening is heartbreaking, and I want people to stop destroying our city. Stop destroying our neighborhood. This is a neighborhood that`s extremely diverse. This is a neighborhood that`s poor. This is a neighborhood that it will take many, many years for it to build -- to rebuild.
So I am begging people to stop burning down our neighborhood and our city, and I am pleading with the Hennepin County attorney general to start the process of charging these men because this is what will stop this madness right now and mayhem that`s happening in Minneapolis.
WILLIAMS: I`m just watching this from a distance obviously in horror and sadness as, again, as someone who visits often and has great affection for your city. I was surprised at the Hennepin County attorney today. Apparently, he felt the need to correct at least one statement he made at the news conference. It was an elaborate event. Three, four people coming to the microphone. A mic and a podium. Various opening statements. Were you surprised that that`s all it was really.
HASSAN: I`m not surprised because I have -- this is not the first murder that happens. This is not the first black man that was murdered in Minneapolis. And Minneapolis has a history of police officers murdering black men and that being buried under the books.
So I was not the least surprised. But I hope that Mike Freeman is watching what`s happening in Minneapolis tonight. I hope he`s, you know, understanding the destruction and the demolition of public property and the terror and the fear that this is going to cause in the people that live in this space.
This is not that far away from my home. I can see the -- you know, if I look out my window, I can see all the smoke. And this is going to have a huge impact in this community. We -- I`m pleading with Mike Freeman to act right and for once to do something right about and honor black people`s request of dealing with this injustice. We`re tired. We`re fed up.
This is historical trauma repeating itself over and over. It`s like watching the same movie. You know the end, but you just keep rewinding the same movie, and it doesn`t -- it doesn`t get less painful. It gets more painful every time. Every time you watch a black man die and nobody does something about it, it gets more painful. And today, these are the tears of my community. Burning buildings are the tears of my community.
WILLIAMS: Well, we mourn for your community as we mourn for George Floyd and his family. We hope you stay safe and well, and the phrase that was popularized in the 1960s is "alive and well tonight," and that is the whole world is watching, and what they`re watching tonight in Minneapolis is not just a fire in a municipal building, police headquarters, where presumably there are fire doors and sprinklers and some protection.
And presumably they have taken proper steps to get prisoners out of the overnight holding cells, to get valuable materials and ammunition gathered up and out of there. There`s also something the representative mentioned, and that`s the destruction of private property, commercial property, during a pandemic, perhaps family-owned businesses. Those are among the structures we`re watching going up in flames.
Ali Velshi outside the other fire, which we believe to have been a liquor store. And, Ali, I was just looking at it from the aerial picture. If that fire gets a run through that roof, the part of the building they call (INAUDIBLE) can often run straight over and start three and four in a row, and before you know it you`ve got a city block going.
VELSHI: That`s right, and it`s not a still night. There is wind in the air tonight. This is a store next to the liquor store. It was a smoke shop. That`s up in flames. We saw that starting earlier. We`ve now seen people take out -- they`ve taken out all the windows in the liquor store. So that will be engulfed very shortly.
Look at the front of the police station now. That`s the facade of the police station. It does not appear to have fully spread. I will tell you, Brian, I don`t have confirmed information on this, but I would imagine that the police have now evacuated because there`s no -- there`s nothing that looks reinforcements coming in and that building is for all intents and purposes on fire.
So you`ve got the protesters who remain standing in vigil in front of the police station, in silhouette. The fire, the flames illuminating them from the back. And you`re seeing the shadow of them with their arms raised, signifying victory over the police station.
We have this liquor store, which the protesters are determined -- by the way, I want to be clear. There are protesters, and there are others here. There are people who are really, really concerned about what the issue is. I don`t know -- I can`t make out who in the crowd is doing this, but they have taken out all the windows of the liquor store. That store is completely engulfed, and we now have search lights. We`ve got a helicopter with searchlights now focusing on the police building. So we`re not sure. That may just be a media helicopter. But that`s the situation we have here at the intersection in front of the third precinct.
WILLIAMS: Ali, just stay safe and watch your back. We have someone with us who can talk about this and the larger issues we`re seeing play out. Eddie Glaude is with us, the chairman of the Center of African American Studies at Princeton.
Eddie, this is tough to take. It`s tough to watch. What would your message be if I handed you a loudspeaker for that crowd in that city right now tonight?
EDDIE GLAUDE, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: You know, if I had an opportunity to say something to them, this is not the end and aim of our struggle. To understand the rage, to understand the anger, the disappointment, the lack of trust, but this is not the end and aim of our struggle. What are we trying to achieve? This is breaking my heart to see. I understand it, but it`s breaking my heart.
WILLIAMS: An unusual question but one I`m sure you can handle. What would our last president have done, and what would he have said by now?
GLAUDE: You know, I don`t know. I think he would have -- you know, he saw something in the context of Baltimore where there was the split screen of Baltimore on fire and President Obama speaking, and there was language of thugs and the like.
We`re in a different kind of moment, Brian, a moment where not only do we have a pandemic, but the pandemic has caused massive unemployment. People have lost loved ones. There`s a deep sense of distrust of government, and now we see distrust of the police here in this community.
So I don`t know if the symbolism of Barack Obama could work in this moment. We`re on the cusp of a kind of desperation in this country that will evidence itself in a number of different ways, and this is just one of the more extreme ways in which that desperation has been given expression.
What I`m interested in also, Brian, is there was a decision made. We need to begin to interrogate it. There was a deployment of police yesterday in full force. We saw tear gas. We saw rubber bullets. We saw force. And now we see absence, as if our only choice was between the police in a paramilitary stance or the police wholly absent from the scene. I want to know more about that decision on the part of the local leaders in Minneapolis at this point.
WILLIAMS: Just a point of information to our viewers. Eddie, don`t go anywhere -- who are watching. On the left-hand side of your screen, if we`re correct that the building we`re watching is the police station, regardless of its location, we see traffic moving behind it. And if that`s the case, especially if it`s any kind of police escort or police presence, they can get fire apparatus in there.
A fire this big will require a huge water supply, but I am guessing -- and Ali Velshi has been accurately portraying just how thick the crowds are, how tight it is there and how thin the chances are that Minneapolis Fire Department will get in there to be able to do their jobs and save the municipal building, save what`s left, the carcass of several family-owned and run businesses.
Eddie, you and I spoke this afternoon. Refresh my memory. Did people tell us at the dawn of the electronic age that once we were all walking around with cameras in our pocket, cameras in our hands, all of us, it would somehow regulate human behavior?
GLAUDE: Yes, we heard that before, right? We did hear that, and in some way, some believed that the cameras would expose the horror and the cruelty. And the only thing that the cameras did to echo my colleagues (Inaudible) confirm that extermination is a part of American life.
You know, I`m a longtime reader of Susan Sontag and her work on photography. And there`s a sense in which the images have become spectacle. The videos have become spectacle. On the one hand, as I said to you earlier, Brian, we need the videos to convince some that`s what`s happening to us is real. Without the video, the killers of Ahmaud Arbery would not be in jail right now.
But at the same time, the videos become this kind of -- this kind of spectacle around black pain and death, and nothing changes. Nothing changes. And look what we see here, a city in pain, a city on fire, and a community trying to figure out in its own troublesome way how to get justice, how to be heard by folk who just simply refuse to hear them.
WILLIAMS: Professor Eddie Glaude, thank you very much for adding your thoughts to this horrific evening of live television. Out of one of the great American cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota. And what we are unable to show our viewers, just a reminder, there is also violence going on in St. Paul, not far at all from what we`re watching in Minneapolis.
The mayor of St. Paul has sent out a request for the National Guard. Morgan Chesky is our correspondent now closest to the rear of the third precinct police headquarters where that fire is burning. Morgan, how much of the structure -- maybe you don`t have a good angle on it -- has this consumed thus far?
MORGAN CHESKY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Brian, right now we`re seeing potential smoke starting to come from that third precinct building, but it`s tough to tell the truth extent of the damage of this fire because as you mentioned, it`s spreading from building to building. That liquor store going up in flames.
I can tell you that the response to any fire in this area is going to be made doubly difficult from the fact that this is the road blockage behind me that protesters have created by dragging trash cans from behind the precinct into the road. And then putting up that fence and lighting it on fire. It`s been burning for about the past 20 minutes, and that is essentially how police officers would pull in from the rear entrance to get to the police station.
We watched these protesters in mass approach this building, hoist each other onto a first level, and start breaking windows and stream inside that building, where they`ve been now for about the past half hour. I have yet to see any serious police response in this area.
Earlier we had the sound of flash bangs competing with those fireworks, but at this point in time, all those pops that you`re hearing are really caused by the crowd lighting off fireworks in this area. Still so much mention now.
We`ve certainly seen the crowds start to shift to a more aggressive manner, going inside this building, causing more damage because at least from what I can see, they feel the freedom to do so because it`s unchecked at this point in time. And right now we`re just seeing continuing streams of people. We have fireworks going off now above the police precinct, Brian.
But the one thing we`re looking for is any sort of a police response or, more importantly, any sort of a National Guard response since the governor signed that proclamation earlier today that gave them permission to help as needed.
So the fire is still burning behind me, blocking off this roadway. We have protesters just down the block from me that are continuing to stream, blocking any other sort of help from getting in this area. And meanwhile just one last look here at the police precinct that has been breached by hundreds of protesters here in this area three days after the death of George Floyd. They are now walking through that building that police guarded so carefully last night, standing on top of the roof, and they`re now doing as they wish. Brian.
WILLIAMS: So, Morgan, if you needed to find a police officer right now, if your life depended on police presence, there`s nothing -- no obvious outpost that you see around you?
CHESKY: Right now I`m relying upon the four security guards that we were assigned, Brian. I have not seen a police officer for the past 45 minutes to an hour.
WILLIAMS: Wow. Morgan Chesky outside the third precinct police headquarters where there is fire adjacent to the building, and as we`ve seen from our helicopter shots, there is fire coming out the front.
I want to reference something we just saw but didn`t point out. Right before our aerial shots went away, you might have seen the periodic flash of a green laser. Often -- and we`ve seen this in protests, especially in Asia, some in France and parts of Europe -- protesters have used lasers to blind any facial recognition police technology or generally to try to blind and dissuade approaching police officers.
I fear in this case when you aim it at an aircraft, it can be highly disorienting. The laser beam fractures inside the cockpit and creates such a reflection, it is very hard for pilots to do their job and keep their orientation. So I am -- I`m just wondering aloud if that`s what happened to our aerial shot or if the MPD just said television helicopters should clear the airspace. Ali Velshi is outside the storefront we see right there fully involved. Ali?
VELSHI: Yes, and so just to give you a sense of positioning, this smoke shop. Then there`s a liquor shop. Then there`s the street and the police station is right across the road. So we`re 500 feet from the front of the police station.
There are fires burning in different directions around me. There`s another fire over there. You can see from the aerial shots. And to your point a moment ago, I have seen lasers in the last few minutes. I don`t know what they`re doing.
You were talking about traffic around here. This street right here is open. There`s no police presence as Morgan said. There`s no one stopping anybody. Barricades were put up on certain streets around the area, but it doesn`t matter because people just move the barricades. There`s no police.
There continue to be unconfirmed reports on social media about the National Guard being activated to do certain things tonight in this city. But that would have to be a very big decision and given what has happened strategically -- see some debris flying around here. Given what we have seen that strategically is the police for the last few hours have decided to disengage.
They have not engaged with this crowd for many hours today. Then when the perimeter of the police station was breached, they came out and fired the gas canisters and the flash bangs. They`ve retreated. I`m sure they`re gone from that building, long gone from that building. Don`t know how they got out, but they`re gone, and this is what`s rest.
So this fire, as you predicted, has gone through the roof. It`s now gone through the rafters. It`s connected to the building next to it, so this block is now essentially on fire, and there`s nothing to be done about it. There are no fire department engines. There was one a block and a half away about an hour and a half ago with the fire that was over there. They were not able to accomplish much as Morgan was able to say.
They had to wait till the crowd left before they could do anything, and that building had burned out by that time. At that point, this is now what`s happening. In south Minneapolis, there`s an entire block basically on fire and a half a block next to it. That`s after three blocks last night right next to it have burned and there is no police presence. There is no National Guard presence. And there are no fire engines here, Brian.
WILLIAMS: And, Ali, a reminder. When the National Guard arrives, think of how they present to the crowd. They traditionally arrive on Humvees. They arrive when they`re dismounted wearing camo. That can be a very aggressive look even though up until yesterday they were all at home living their lives in the middle of a pandemic with their families, and now to serve in this, 500 of them will come together in this effort.
VELSHI: Yes, and I think this is an important point. There`s a difference between activating the National Guard in the interest of public safety, which has to be done, and National Guard members in full outfit arriving in militarized vehicles here.
I think there is a strategic decision on the part of the fire department and the police department and the state that that may not be the right thing to do. But that`s a hard thing to watch. It`s a hard thing to watch, public property burning down and this being uncontrolled.
This is exactly what we think order is supposed to be like, but there`s no order right now in the streets. There`s a lot of movement coming our way. A lot of movement coming our way. Something has happened. People are running away from the police station.
Typically when you see that kind of running, it indicates gas canisters, but I hear what sounds like a low flying helicopter. No, that`s not it. I don`t know what it is, Brian. This happens every now and then. You see the crowd, a bunch of people running away for some reason.
Again, it tends to be gas canisters, but there`s no police presence. I haven`t had to put this mask on in an hour because there`s no police around here. Since the beginning of the show when we last had gas, that was the last police presence we had in the neighborhood.
WILLIAMS: So Ali, people would be forgiven if they were just tuning in to ask the very natural question, what`s to stop the fire behind you, and is there any residential structure even tangentially attached to what`s burning?
VELSHI: There isn`t -- there are -- you know, it`s a typical industrial structure in which there are things above. And I see a satellite dish there, so I don`t know whether those are people living in some of these apartments or buildings above the storefronts. There`s certainly no lights on anywhere in this area. So anybody who was living here is gone.
But there`s no residential immediately where we are. This is almost entirely industrial area. Right in front of me is the AutoZone you saw. Factories behind that. Shopping mall across the road which has already been looted and a Target store which was set on fire. You`ve already seen that.
So this area has been vacated. There are no shopkeepers here. Everybody who does business around here as left. I do know there`s residential very close to here. Within a couple of blocks, there are houses. But they seem to be focused on the businesses at the moment and particularly those in periphery to the third precinct.
This seems to be the reason for the attention on this particular few-block area. It`s over there, and the protesters are still standing in front of it. The fire does seem to have died down on the facade in front of the building.
As I mentioned to you earlier, most of that is an old brick building. So it may be that the whole thing hasn`t caught fire. It doesn`t seem to be burning more than it was earlier. But the protesters are still standing in front of that building, and of course this building is now -- this whole block essentially is on fire behind me.
WILLIAMS: And one last time, when you survey the skyline around you, how many more fires do you see in the distance?
VELSHI: We got one burning out to my right. There`s one that`s been active for now a couple of hours behind me. There`s a third one that I can make out about 45 degrees over. So I see three -- four active fires from where I am right now, and I know that there are others burning in the city. There are a number of reports and reports on social media. A message has gone out over the airwaves. They cleared the airwaves for the fire department.
The chief of the fire department sent out a message of support to all the firefighters, saying how proud he is of them. But it`s a difficult time if you are a firefighter because what you can`t do is come in and rile up an already riled up crowd. So this is a real tough one tonight in south Minneapolis. We`re seeing it burn, and there does not seem to be a solution at hand, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Terrific point. Usually firefighters` arrival is welcome at the scene of an emergency, and yet as veterans of the tough times in American urban areas will tell you back in the `60s and `70s, they were not welcomed with open arms, and they were often under attack themselves when rolling into an environment like this.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END