CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Bryan Stevenson is author of the best-selling memoir "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption." It`s always a great honor to get to talk to you. Thank you so much for making some time for us tonight.
BRYAN STEVENSON, AUTHOR: Happy to be with you.
HAYES: That is ALL IN for this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. It is 9:00 on the east coast and a mandatory curfew has been in effect for about one hour now in America`s largest city.
This is live in New York right now. There have been thousands of people in the streets of New York City all day today. Large crowds today in New York City peacefully protesting the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
This is interesting, something you should see as a true marker of the dual crisis our country is facing right now. Look at this. This is what happened out in front of a New York hospital this afternoon. It was health care workers out in their scrubs coming out to the sidewalk to cheer on the protesters. Protesters yelling back thank you, thank you, thank you.
This today was Houston, Texas, where George Floyd grew up -- 25,000 people in the streets today in Houston to protest his killing. At the start of that protest, all 25,000 of them got one knee for a 30-second moment of silence. After that, they got up and started marching toward Houston City hall led by Floyd`s adopted brother. They were chanting "George Floyd" and "hands up, don`t shoot."
In Philadelphia today, in Little Rock, Arkansas today, in Charlotte, North Carolina today, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there were peaceful protests all across the country today despite the president`s threat to use the U.S. military against Americans who chose to protest.
For the fourth day in a row, there were demonstrations right outside the White House in Lafayette Park. Some of the protesters told NBC that this was their first day there, that the use of force to clear the way for the president yesterday was what motivated them to come out to Lafayette Park today. They marched through the streets chanting for justice, for justice now. At one point they stopped, they knelt down, and very softly, they sang "Amazing Grace."
We`ve also been watching Franklin Park in Boston which is the site of a huge and peaceful protest that included a die in earlier today. That crowd in Boston still marching through that city today.
We`re also watching Atlanta tonight. In Atlanta, six police officers have now been criminally charged after tasing and dragging a couple of college student who is had done nothing wrong out of their car on Saturday night. The charges are criminal damage to -- excuse me, criminal damage to property to aggravated assault. Charges and arrest warrants for those six officers were announced today.
We have eyes on Seattle tonight, on Chicago, on Minneapolis, where large crowds of protesters have been gathering throughout the day. And, of course, we are keeping an eye on New York city, America`s largest city, as I mentioned under a curfew that was earlied up to 8:00 p.m. tonight after the protests last night gave way from peaceful demonstrations of anger and solidarity to widespread chaos and looting in New York last night.
Police arrested more than 700 people in New York City last night. Even still the police response was lamented as inappropriate and ineffectual by New York`s governor who mused aloud today about replacing New York City`s mayor in order to have a more direct hand in how the protests would be policed in New York City.
This is the nation`s capital right now. D.C. crowd still in the streets tonight, after the president`s threat last night to deploy the U.S. military against the protesters, against the American people. As we`ll talk about a little bit later on, the "A.P." is reported 700 members of the 82nd Airborne have arrived at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and Fort Belvoir in Virginia. These are bases just outside D.C.
"A.P." further reporting that another 1,400 soldiers are ready to be deployed within one hour`s notice. The "A.P." reporting that the soldiers are armed, and have riot gear, and also bayonets. We`ll have more on that in a moment.
But all day long we have been seeing snapshots and sort of disbelieving eyewitness reports of U.S. military vehicles in the streets of Washington, D.C., including this convoy of military vehicles that stretched down 14th Street in downtown Washington today.
And, you know, it has been a creepy evidence lust from this president since his first day in office that he wanted to see this. He wanted to see military hardware, missile launchers, tanks, aircraft all rolled out and put on display for him. You remember, he literally wanted tanks and missile launchers rolled down the streets of Washington, D.C., for his inauguration, right?
You may also remember that his inauguration was a disappointment for the president in lots of ways, not at least because he got an ill attended tractor parade and, you know, baton twirlers instead of the missile launchers and Abrams tanks that he wanted ripping up D.C.`s streets to celebrate him. Well, it took three-plus years of him in office, but he finally got his military in the streets.
One of the things that has been weighing extra heavily on the sort of death of the republic scale that we all keep handy these days is that no one will quite admit in the Trump administration and even in the military as to what it is exactly they`re doing with these threats to use the U.S. military against the American people. No one will quite admit to what exactly they`re participating in and who exactly is making it happen and what exactly is being unfurled here. I mean, yesterday, we had the first reports that the president had ordered the deployment of active duty U.S. Army against U.S. citizens on domestic soil.
We got these reports that he had order the deployment in the streets of D.C. of an active duty military police unit from Fort Bragg in North Carolina. There were conflicting and confused reports last night as to whether the president was using the Insurrection Act of 1807 to deploy active duty troops in places other than D.C. even over the objections of the governors of those states. As of last night, officials at the Pentagon told NBC News they didn`t know the insurrection act thing was happening or not. We`re just making it up on the fly, I guess.
As the president in the Rose Garden licked his lips last night and make that herky fast inhale sound that he does and then said, as we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers -- after that pronouncement from him, not last night after he said those words and actually not all day today would the Pentagon say how many of these supposed thousands and thousands of heavily armed U.S. soldiers were actually being, in the president`s words, dispatched on U.S. soil. And honestly dispatching is not the right verb you should apply to soldier deployments here or abroad. But whatever, that`s what he said.
That`s what he said, but the Pentagon wouldn`t elaborate, wouldn`t explain, wouldn`t say what was happening. It seemed like maybe they did not know. "The New York Times" was still reporting into the early evening tonight that it wasn`t clear whether it was only going to be military police battalions deployed against the American people on the president`s orders, or whether it would be other types of U.S. troops as well.
It was not until tonight that the excellent defense reporter at the "Associated Press", James Laporta, broke the news in the national press that yeah, actually it`s not just military police battalions. It`s combat battalions. It`s the 82nd Airborne.
Quote: On Tuesday, today, roughly 700 members of the Army`s 82nd airborne division arrived at two military bases near Washington, D.C. another 1,400 soldiers were ready to be mobilized within an hour. The soldiers are armed and have riot gear as well as bayonets. Yes, bayonets. Like think Korean War, right?
A bayonet is the dagger-like thing they can mount to the end of a rifle so they can stab people with it. The president has ordered troops with bayonets from the 82nd Airborne to deploy in the United States against the American people.
For context here, here`s some training footage recently posted online from the 10th mountain division showing their rifle bayonet assault course. This is how soldiers in the current U.S. army are trained to use bayonets mounted on their rifles. Why do they have them deploy with bayonets? I mean, the idea of the bayonet is to get in close and stab the enemy in case that`s easier than shooting them from a foot away. That`s part of how President Trump is equipping these soldiers he`s deploying against the American population right now.
He`s also doing this. The "Associated Press", again, reporter James Laporta, also reporting tonight, quote: Dateline Washington, President Donald Trump ordered military aircraft to fly above the capital last night as a show of force against American demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd according to two Department of Defense officials. Show of force missions are designed to intimidate and in combat zones warn opposing forces of potential military action.
Here`s how "The New York Times" reported on this as well. Quote, around 10:00 p.m. last night, the military stepped up its attempts to suppress the protesters. A crowd making its way through the Washington -- excuse me, Chinatown area of Washington had gone relatively unbothered by law enforcement having snaked across town, blocking roads and chanting "we can`t breathe," "George Floyd," and "hands up, don`t shoot." The group for the most part was peaceful.
Then a Black Hawk helicopter followed by a smaller medical evacuation helicopter, medevac helicopter, dropped to rooftop level with its search lights aimed at the crowd. Tree limbs snapped, nearly hitting several people. Signs were torn from the sides of buildings. Some protesters looked up while others ran into doorways. The down force of the air from the rotors was deafening. Helicopters were performing a show of force, a tactic used by military aircraft in combat zones to scatter insurgents.
Again, the "Associated Press" reporting tonight that this specifically is what the president ordered U.S. military aircraft to do, this combat zone maneuver, against Americans in the streets of an American city.
The president and the defense secretary using the military this way and talking about America this way has led to criticism from some esteemed military leaders like General Tony Thomas, the former head of Special Operations Command, and General Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
And Admiral Mike Mullen, another former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tonight joined that criticism and, frankly, raised it a level, saying, quote: I remain confident in the professionalism of our men and women in uniform. They will obey lawful orders, but I am less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief. We must endeavor to see American cities and towns as our homes and neighborhoods. They are not battle spaces to be dominated and must never become so.
That was from Admiral Mike Mullin who served as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011 spanning the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies.
Tonight, a senior Pentagon official, James Miller, who is undersecretary of defense for policy from 2012 to 2014 also resigned from the Defense Science Board at the Pentagon in protest of Defense Secretary Mark Esper accompanying President Trump on his photo op last night, a photo op for which we now know Attorney General William Barr personally ordered a large crowd of peaceful protesters cleared out of the park across from the White House so the president could go pose for a photo.
When the attorney general ordered those protesters, that charge was carried out on mounted police on horse back, volleys of tear gas, flash grenades, all so the president could pose for a photo-op at St. John`s Episcopal Church. That will turn out to be a signal thing in this moment in history.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for one turned it into a new centerpiece for his own campaign to make Donald J. Trump a one-term president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to be vigilant about the violence that`s being done by this incumbent president to our economy and to the pursuit of justice. When peaceful protesters dispersed in order for a president -- a president -- from the doorstep of the peoples` house, the White House, using tear gas and flash grenades, in order to stage a photo op, a photo op, on one of the most historic churches in the country or at least in Washington, D.C., we can be forgiven for believing the president is more interested in power than in principle.
The president held up the bible at St. John`s Church yesterday. I just wish he opened it once in a while instead of brandishing it. If he opened it, he could have learned something.
We`re all called to love one another as we love ourselves. It`s really hard work. But it`s the work of America.
Donald Trump isn`t interesting in doing that work. Instead he`s sweeping away all the guardrails that long protected our democracy. The president might also want to open the U.S. Constitution once in a while. If he did, he would find a thing called the First Amendment and what it says in the beginning, it says the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to position their government for a redress of grievances.
That`s kind of an essential notion in this country. Mr. President, that`s America. That`s America. No horses rising up on their hind legs to push back peaceful protesters, not using the American military to move against the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joe Biden speaking today in Philadelphia.
I think it will turn out to be important for history that the president has not acted alone here in were turning the U.S. military against the American people. It`ll turn out to be important that it was the attorney general who walked over to Lafayette Park to order the assault on the peaceful protesters there so the president could go do a photo op on the other side of the park.
It will turn out to be important that the defense secretary, Mark Esper, and even the current chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Mark Milley, accompanied president Trump in that photo op and that show of force against American citizens that it took to get there.
It will be important for the history here that General Milley later on that night went out in the streets of D.C. in camouflage fatigues to survey the situation like some kind of viceroy, like some kind of battlefield commanders after the president told America governors that General Milley was being put in charge and he wouldn`t say of what he was putting him in charge. He was just putting him in charge. And the general went out in combat fatigues and strutted around the city to be seen.
But for the people whose church it was that this photo op was done in front of, what happened here will not just be important to history the way it will be to all of us. It will not just be important to the history of republic the way it will be particularly to those military leaders. For the people whose church that is, what happened here is not just important for American history. It`s important for their lives now because of what they`ve just been used for without their permission.
The Episcopal bishop of Washington telling "The Washington Post", quote, I am outraged. I am the bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Washington and was not even given a courtesy call that they would be clearing the area with tear gas so they could use our church as a prop.
The rector of the church that was used by the president in this way telling "The Post" he felt, quote, blindsided by the president`s actions. Quote, we want St. John`s to be a space for grace, that`s a place where you can breathe, he said. Being used as a prop, it really takes away from what we are trying to do.
One seminarian and one priest who are cleared from the area outside St. John`s as the protesters were cleared out of their before the president marched over to do his photo-op wrote in a Facebook post after she`s been cleared out of there that she is, quote, now a force to be reckoned with.
And then there was the presiding bishop of the entire Episcopal church, the Most Reverend Michael Curry, who even if you`re not an Episcopalian, you will recognize anyway from his presiding over the royal wedding in 2018 and his presiding over the beautiful funeral service for former President George H.W. Bush.
Bishop Michael Curry is the head of the entire Episcopal Church. And after what happened with the tear gassing and the trampling of those protesters so the president could hold a photo op in front of an Episcopal Church in Washington, last night, Bishop Curry has released this statement about the president`s actions.
Quote: This evening, the president of the United States stood in front of St. John`s Episcopal Church, lifted a bible, and had pictures of himself taken. In so doing, he used a church building and the holy bible for partisan political purposes. This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us.
Joining us now I`m honored to say is Bishop Michael Curry who was the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.
Reverend Curry, thank you so much for being here tonight. It really is an honor to have this time with you. Thanks for making time, sir.
BISHOP MICHAEL CURRY, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: Let me just ask you to give us your own context, your own understanding of what happened yesterday with St. John`s and why you were moved to put out this sharply worded statement.
CURRY: Well, you know, the president went over to St. John`s Church and took that picture holding a copy of the bible and did so without, as Bishop Budde said, without the courtesy of even letting her know and the rector or pastor of the church.
But even more important than that, he did that and took a picture. He didn`t say a prayer. He didn`t ask for God to bless and help the nation. He could have turned around, addressed the nation, and said you may agree or disagree with me, but tonight, I want to ask all Americans in your own way by your own fate to pray for the healing of our nation, pray that we may find solutions to our problems, pray that we may find a way to love each other.
The president could have used that in a positive, spiritual and moral way. Instead, it was used as a matter of partisan politics and a photo op. And that is just simply -- that`s just simply wrong.
MADDOW: Bishop, excuse me for interrupting there. Bishop Budde has been upset about the use of the church, the same way that you have been, and the same way the rector, the pastor of that church has been, and I heard her articulate it in a way that felt -- sort of took my breath away. She said that what she believed the president was doing -- I`m going to paraphrase her -- was to essentially clothe himself in the symbols of a faith, in the symbols of a religious tradition that were designed not to honor or make community with that faith or that religious tradition, but essentially to enhance his own authority, to build himself up to, essentially assume the power and weight of those symbols for himself to try to aggrandize his own political power and standing.
That -- hearing Bishop Budde described it that way, as I said, sort of took my breath away. I want to posit that to you as to whether or not you think that`s the way we ought to look at this.
CURRY: Well, I`ll tell you what. There`s the outward form of religion but the inward reality of it that makes the difference.
Holding up the bible is one thing but actually opening it and reading the New Testament and living by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth who said blessed are the peacemakers. You don`t read blessed are the peacemakers and then have tear gas fired on peaceful protesters. The Jesus who said do unto others as you would have them do unto you, you don`t do that and not allow people to exercise their rights as citizens to protest peacefully and lawfully.
The bible says Jesus says clearly you should love your neighbor as yourself. This is the supreme law of God, to love God and to love our neighbor, the supreme law of God. And to illustrate that, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, that`s what`s inside the bible.
That`s the teachings of the Christian tradition. That`s what the church stands for. To stand in front of it and not represent those values, the values of love and justice and compassion and human decency is to violate a basic principle of the Christian faith itself represented by that bible and represented by that church. And that`s part of what the bishop of Washington was getting at.
Now, I would submit, Rachel, that we can do better than that. I would submit that it is time to move, for the president and for all of us to move to higher ground which is what the bible is about. There`s a passage in a bible that says set me upon a rock that is higher than I.
And we must go higher. We must claim the law and the way of love for each other, unselfish sacrificial love, as the way in which we will help to bind this nation together, redress our wrongs, establish justice, and make this a land where there is equality and justice and decency for every human child of God.
MADDOW: Bishop Curry, let me just ask you one last thing while I have you here. We`re watching live images of protests and sites of protests tonight. And it is amid this backdrop of the president threatening to and starting to use the U.S. military on domestic soil against the American people, threatening to do so, bragging about how well-armed they`ll be.
We`ve seen incredible violence. We`ve seen a lot of people hurt. We`ve seen people shot. We`ve seen people killed over these past eight days.
To people that just feel afraid for where things are going right now, do you have a message for people in terms of people who worry about the course of the country right now?
CURRY: To be sure, there is as the old slaves would say, trouble in the land. There`s no question about that.
But there is, I believe, a fundamental moral order to the world in which we live that has been established by God when God saw everything he made and said it was good. That was a moral declaration.
And I believe that in the end, if people of good will and human decency come together and say we`re going to be a people of love, we`re going to be a people of compassion, we`re going to be a people worthy of the name American, and then we will be a shining city upon a hill. If we, the majority, sometimes the silent majority, will stand up, speak up, and join hands together across racial differences, across religious, across sexual orientation, all of our differences join hands as brothers and sisters and siblings and let us stand up and make this nation a loving, descent, freedom-loving justice-reigning nation. Make America that kind of nation, and then there will be peace in our streets.
MADDOW: Bishop Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, sir, it`s an honor to have you here tonight. Thank you for taking the time tonight. Thank you for being with us.
I`m sorry for the way your church got dragged into this way. Thank you for your colleagues and the Episcopal Church for thanking so eloquently in this way.
CURRY: Thank you for all you do. God bless you.
MADDOW: Thank you, sir.
All right. Much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: As we continue to watch protests unfolding live across the country tonight, an 8th straight day of protests in the aftermath in the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Monday of last week on Memorial Day. Large protests happening in dozens of American cities simultaneously tonight.
With that going on for an 8th straight day, you`re looking at Boston here, Portland, Oregon, also Seattle and New York we had there. With those protests that we are keeping eyes on tonight with the ongoing massive viral pandemic as loose in the country which has already killed over 105,000 Americans, hey, today was also Election Day. Eight states and the District of Columbia held primary elections today. It was also the deadline for ballots to be received in Idaho`s primary election which was conducted at mail.
There isn`t much suspense at the top of the ballot. Where we have results for the presidential primaries, Joe Biden who is the only remaining active candidate, he is obviously winning. There`s interesting down ballot races.
And voting itself is interesting and harrowing on a day like today. In person challenge was always going to be a challenge because of the coronavirus which made it difficult for states and cities to find enough poll workers to open up polling places.
This was voting today in Philadelphia where there are usually 831 polling places open on Election Day across Philly. Usually 831. Today there were less than 200.
In Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, which is where Pittsburgh is, their usual polling locations number about 1,300. They consolidated them today down to 147.
Polk County, Iowa, home to Des Moines, the state`s capital and largest city. They usually have 135 polling places in Polk County. Today it was 28.
Voters in Baltimore, Maryland, reported having to wait over two hours this afternoon. One reporter with the affiliate in Indianapolis posted this video of a line circling the block after poll closing at 6:00 p.m. local time tonight. The reporter says he`s been with that station for over 40 years and he has never seen anything like this.
Meanwhile, amid the ongoing protests and unrest across the country over the police killing of George Floyd, voters in places like Philly and Washington, D.C., and several counties in Iowa, they additionally face curfews going into effect just as polls close or in some cases just before polls close. I mean, four of the states voting today postponed their elections to today back in March because they hoped the coronavirus epidemic would be under control by now.
Not only is the epidemic not at all under control by now, these states now face the second simultaneous crisis with these protests and unrests and curfew in many American cities where you`re heading to the polls and you`re having to think how am I going to convince the cops on my block who are trying to tell me I can`t be outside that it`s OK for me to be outside because I`m going to vote. How is this negotiation going to go? Who do I talk to? Is it worth it? Should I vote?
This all unfolded today even as record number of voters did not go to polling places at all but instead were able to vote by mail. That`s -- that caused its own problems with the surge in mail ballots causing processes delays that may end up disqualifying hundreds or even thousands of ballots in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico. Thousands of ballots may not be counted if they`re not returned by the deadline of noon on Election Day.
The Republican Party says its considering suing to block an extension of the absentee ballot deadline in Pennsylvania just like Republicans have south to block expansions of voting by mail in other states. This is the Republican Party`s overt strategy for November, blocking expanded absentee voting even if the reason is because of a fatal pandemic that`s killed more than 100,000 Americans that should, by rights, lead us to innovate in ways that have people safely and efficiently vote absentee and by mail.
However important any individual result is from any individual primary that`s taking place tonight in all these varied places, it does sort of feel like a very dry run for the looming question of whether we`re, you know, what kind of small-D democracy we`re going to have when this is all over, right? I mean, our democracy, including the basic infrastructure and logistics of voting has never been under this much pressure from this many simultaneous crises, all fanned and exacerbated by a president who appears to relish the state of crisis, who will clearly be all too happy to pile on additional crises in the months between now and the election.
It feels crazy to be talking about primary results when we`ve got protests in the streets in dozens of American cities. We`ve got the president siccing the American military on the American public. We`ve got a coronavirus epidemic that is still the worst in the world with over 100,000 Americans dead.
But while all this is happening, we`re all responsible for making sure that our fragile small-D democracy survives this incredibly dark moment.
We`re going to talk about that among other things with Senator Cory Booker who joins us live next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ): I`m embarrassed that I was two miles from that park and I did not get there to stand with those protesters. Well, I tell you what, Donald Trump, every member of this coequal body should condemn what this president did, trampling upon the most sacred right of this nation -- to assemble, to petition, to protest. What this president did was to make a mockery of our civil rights. I say ours. I was not there in that park, but every one of us should wish we were there.
And I`m telling you right now if Donald Trump wants to gas someone next time, start right here. If he wants to shoot somebody with our federal officials with rubber bullets, start right here. If he wants to trample them with horses while they peacefully assemble, come to this body because what he did to those Americans in that square yesterday he did to all of us.
Shame on him -- to stand and hold up the bible of our faith, of a man who understood humility, our savior, who stood up against power misuse, who stood up against every -- every instinct that he showed yesterday. And so, today, the least we can do as a body is not to remain silent. That is shame, but to speak out against it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Cory Booker from the great state of New Jersey speaking today in Washington.
Joining us now is Senator Booker.
Senator, I really appreciate you making the time to be here tonight with everything that`s going on. Thanks for making the time to be here.
BOOKER: Thank you, Rachel, always.
MADDOW: Let me ask you -- your perception of how things are in your home state of New Jersey. We`ve seen some really interesting dynamics at work in your home city of Newark where you were mayor and where you grew up. And I feel like New Jersey has been hurting particularly because of coronavirus but also with these protests.
It`s been an interesting dynamic at work in your state.
BOOKER: Yes, it`s -- we`re seeing the 1918 pandemic happen at the same time of the Great Depression which the unemployment in urban areas like that, combined with the unrest of the 1960s, and I think that what I`ve seen in Newark and Camden and cities that have gotten a lot of attention because of the way that folks have pulled together, they felt a need to protest, but they`ve really tried to keep things and keep people, often outsiders from our community from coming in and resorting to tactics that we still have scars from the challenges of the past.
So, I just love my community. I love the spirit they`ve evidenced. And I love the sort of relentless commitment to struggle and to protest and to push and to fight through hell and at the same time demand that we do better.
MADDOW: Tell me about the remarks that you made today and your feelings about the president`s actions, both the decision that he has made to call in active duty U.S. troops to be used on U.S. soil against the American people and also the decision that was made apparently by Attorney General Bill Barr yesterday to clear protesters out of that park specifically so the president could pose for photographs.
BOOKER: You know, I`ve tried my best the last week or two to not make it about him, to say publicly he doesn`t have the power to break my hearts, to take the attention, to make him the focus of it, which he and his ego seemed to want, and to make -- no, make it George Floyd, make it these protesters who are pushing and demanding that our nation live up to its values and its ideals, to the millions of Americans who are finding ways to speak out and be activists. That`s where the power of this nation is. But yesterday, he pushed himself and made decisions that were such a moral affront.
I was born in D.C. My parents came here after graduating from historically black colleges. And they -- it was activists in the city that helped them get their first jobs. My mom worked for the D.C. public schools, helped to organize a march on Washington, peaceful demonstrations. That`s the part of the DNA from which I spring.
And to see what he did to people who have come to this city to protest for their religious freedom, their Second Amendment rights, their LGBTQ rights, this is those forums where we come together and peacefully protest. And he has trampled upon those traditions. He has offended our ancestors. He has undermined the very sort of sacred values we hold.
And for a guy in one breath to call protesters thugs and for him to do the thuggish, most bulliest, most cowardice of things all for what? Because he had an urgent place to be? Because he was dealing with some national security crisis? No, so he could swank to (ph) or cross that park that he cleared with tear gas and horses, and stand in front awkwardly, awkwardly stand in front of hallowed ground of a church and hold up a bible for a photo-op is insulting on so many levels, it`s hurtful in so many levels, when there are so many more issues that we should be focused, that you and I should be talking about.
And so, I -- I took time today and did what I didn`t want to do, at a time that I want to be talking about police accountability, at a time I want to be talking about violence against black bodies, at a time I want to be talking about the intimate connections between Americans that demand our love because without that we will have violence, we will have hurt, we will all be damned if we can`t manifest in our laws, because as one of my heroes, what does love like in public, it looks like justice.
But, no, instead of talking about those issues, he finds yet another way to push deeper into the muck and the despair and the gutter that he seems to want to drag the whole country down into. And so, I just reject that and call on my colleagues today with every ounce of my fiber of my being to just condemn those actions. Let`s at least come together and say what he did was wrong.
MADDOW: Because of the way the president does seem to sort of revel in this and because of the political common wisdom that says that he may be able to do with this what Nixon did in 1968 when he got elected in terms of turning scenes of despair and violence in the country to his political advantage, trying to make the country turn hard line and regressive, specifically because of fear and because of concerns about the kind of scenes that we`ve seen over these past eight days.
I have to ask because you are such a sharp political mind, amid all the other things you are, Senator, how you think this ends, and whether or not your party, the Democratic Party, the presidential campaign of Joe Biden, can turn this around so that this is an engine for progressive political change rather than the kind of regressiveness that I think the president is hoping for here?
BIDEN: Well, look, I want to say first of all I love Joe and I`m going to do everything I can. But this is so much bigger than Joe Biden and it`s so much bigger than Donald Trump.
And I don`t think this is a referendum on him, on Donald Trump. I think this election is a referendum on us and who we are as a society. This is a moral moment.
And there have been ones that have been -- and I get schooled by my elders all the time. There have been moral moments like this before where we face down people that wanted to do things so despicable. Bull Conner, I -- George Wallace, I could go through people that used eerily similar tactics that he used in a park yesterday to dispel protesters.
So, we answer those moral moments. We rose to those moments of challenge in our country. We haven`t finished yet. The arc has not fully been completed.
But we are -- we spring from -- my very existence in this body springs from our ancestors who met the darkness with their light, who met the most seemingly impossible odds with moral imagination that was extraordinary and ignited the engagement of others. And so, that`s where we are. This is a referendum on us.
Will we -- will we surrender to him and his tactics? Will we throw up our hands or will we buckle down and double down and bring the best of who we are, that powerful alchemy that somehow turns concrete and stubborn, sclerotic, unmovable challenges into progress for our nation? That`s what we need, that kind of spiritual alchemy, that kind of creative love, that kind of unrementing action.
I put my bet on the people of this country, the good people of this country over this president any day of the week. And what the people on the streets right now peacefully protesting are trying to show yet again in American history and global history is that always -- I don`t care if they`re dictators. I don`t care if they`re illegitimately elected individuals. I don`t care if they were elected by a minority like he was. They always show time and time again when activists ignite other people to be activists, to get people off the sidelines, they will always show that the power of the people is greater than the people -- in this case, the person in power.
MADDOW: Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey -- Senator, it is always good to talk with you, but especially tonight. Thank you for being here, sir. It`s an honor.
BOOKER: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. Just a minute, we`re going to get a live report from New York City where thousands of protesters are still in the street right now despite a curfew that started two hours ago. We all know what happened in New York last night after curfew.
Stay with us. We`ll be back with a live report after this.
MADDOW: New York City has been under curfew since 8:00 Eastern Time. Police have set up blockades on the Manhattan side of the Manhattan, which connects to Brooklyn.
And as of right now, as we understand it, they`re not letting protesters through those blockades who have walked across the bridge.
MSNBC`s Chris Jansing is there tonight.
Chris, what are you seeing right now? What can you tell us about what`s happening?
CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: It`s been a pretty intense situation for at least a half an hour since we`ve been here.
Take a look, Rachel. You have literally scores of police officers who, on this the Manhattan side of the bridge down by China town. But thousands of protesters we were told originally, it`s impossible for us to tell if some of them have turned around and gone back to Brooklyn, but still, a significant number there holding signs, alternately chanting.
The police are just holding their line. I talked to a commanding officer here. He said to me, look, it`s past curfew. No one is allowed into Manhattan unless it`s an emergency situation. That goes for any of the bridges here. And we are just keeping law and order.
But I talked earlier to some protesters who were marching and breaking the curfew. And I asked them why they were doing it. They said this is a sign to police that we are taking back our streets. But you can see over here, they have extra police that were brought in. There was a little bit of intensity when some of the protesters saw more police moved in, maybe about 15 minutes ago, Rachel.
And then we also had groups of people, this is the power of social media. You see groups of people that heard what was going on and have come down here. So right now, it just remains a standoff, as we know and saw at least one large group of protesters still marching. Police were right behind them. But they`re trying to avoid any kind of confrontation, but also wanting to send a message, there`s a curfew, and we intend to enforce it -- Rachel.
MADDOW: MSNBC`s Chris Jansing in Lower Manhattan -- Chris, thank you. We`ll be coming back to you as that standoff rolls on into the night. Again, as Chris was saying, about a half an hour there, that standoff on the Manhattan side of Manhattan, to Brooklyn Bridge. We`ll keep you posted. We`ll stay on it.
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Continuing to keep our eyes on multiple protests around the country, an eighth straight day of national protests after the death of George Floyd in custody in Minneapolis last Monday night. This is Boston and Portland and Seattle and Los Angeles. New York City has been under curfew for two hours but still thousands in the streets.
Our live coverage continues now. Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END