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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 4/1/21

Guests: Courtland Cox, Alicia Garza


Testimony continues in the trial of Derek Chauvin. Joe Biden holds his very first Cabinet meeting as president. Outcry grows against Georgia`s new voter restrictions. Three different generations of civil rights advocates discuss the George Floyd trial, policing, and the wider structural reforms people are calling for.



Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicolle, thank you so much.

I want to welcome everyone to THE BEAT.

We have a special show for you tonight.

We have the latest on Joe Biden`s very first Cabinet meeting as president.

And later tonight -- if you watch THE BEAT, we have been working on this and we`re excited about it -- tonight, our special civil rights panel 53 years after MLK`s assassination.

But we begin with breaking news.

This was, as Nicolle was just reporting, the fourth day of this Chauvin trial wrapping up. Chauvin`s police supervisor testifying just moments ago he should have stopped using restraint, the officer should have, when Floyd was no longer showing any resistance.


SGT. DAVID PLOEGER (RET.), MINNEAPOLIS POLICE DEPARTMENT: When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended their restraint.


MELBER: That is a significant, albeit simple, moment in the trial.

But, sometimes, what`s simple is important because the jury can understand it and remember it. You have the actual police supervisor for the murder defendant condemning the officer, the defendant, on the stand.

This came after paramedics testified that Floyd seem to be dead when they arrived on the scene.


DEREK SMITH, HENNEPIN COUNTY, MINNESOTA, PARAMEDIC: When I arrived on scene, there was a police squad, an individual laying down, three officers on the individual.

ERIN ELDRIDGE, MINNESOTA ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: What is his condition appear to be to you overall?

SMITH: In lay terms, I thought he was dead.

I kind of looked for my partner and told him: "I think he`s dead. And I want to move this out of here."


SMITH: And I will begin care in the back.


MELBER: "in lay terms, I thought he was dead."

Again, simple, clear, sad and tragic as well, but important for the jury to hear this in plain English, because it all is part of the prosecution`s case here. We also heard from the paramedics who took Floyd to the hospital, graphic images shown of Floyd on the stretcher.

En route, paramedics say that Floyd appeared unresponsive, not breathing, with Chauvin still basically on him when they first arrived.

Now, inside the courtroom, a juror was also seen holding her hand over her mouth as she watched some of this. And we also today saw for the first time someone very close to Floyd, his girlfriend, providing her views, her recollections, her emotional testimony about their relationship.


MATTHEW FRANK, MINNESOTA PROSECUTOR: When was it that you first met Mr. Floyd?


FRANK: Sure.

ROSS: OK. It`s one of my favorite stories to tell. Excuse me.

I`m sorry.

He said: "Can I pray with you?"

This kind person just to come up to me and say, "Can I pray with you?" when I felt alone in this lobby, it was so sweet.


MELBER: We`re joined now by former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance.

And in terms of trial advocacy, your view of what the prosecution was conveying with those two key moments. Much happened, but the two that we`re starting with, a supervising officer saying that this was not correct use of force and the humanizing narrative about Mr. Floyd, totally apart from what he may or may not have done or experienced or been put through on that particular last day of his life.

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: At this point in the trial, the prosecutors still can`t argue about what the evidence means. So, they`re beginning to do two things.

They`re, of course, telling a story to the jury and humanizing George Floyd and relying on the jury to figure that part out on their own. But they`re also collecting some of the pieces to the puzzle that they will try to complete in their closing argument, when they explain to the jury why it should convict former Officer Chauvin and why they have evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

So, key pieces that come to light today, I think it`s hard to overemphasize the importance of the testimony of the police officer, the former police officer, who testified this afternoon, saying that, in his judgment, Chauvin went beyond the necessary use of force at some point after George Floyd was in handcuffs, was on the ground, was clearly no longer a threat.

That`s an incredibly important piece that we will hear more about in closing argument, Ari.

MELBER: Mm-hmm.

And the paramedics` testimony is important for a couple of reasons. We did touch on this in our coverage yesterday, but this is new testimony. Take a listen here to the paramedic.


ELDRIDGE: Were you actively working on him the whole time you were with him?

SMITH: Yes. He remained in his -- quote, unquote -- "dead state." And we continued on with the cardiac arrest.

He`s a human being. And I was trying to give him a second chance at life.


MELBER: Joyce, walk us through your analysis of what the prosecution is doing here, because one of the reasons that these kinds of trials can be difficult is that many people, rightly or wrongly, tend to think of the arm of the state as a default, there for the public interest.

So people think of, whether it`s a public EMT or a public police officer, as there to do the right thing, and many do. And here we seem to see a distinction between those who did their duty and what is the allegation against the officer, that he actually suited up in the uniform of the state to do crime.

VANCE: So, the prosecution has to prove technical elements of the crime. They have to prove what Chauvin`s intent was.

They have to prove causation for the death. And we see elements of both of those in the testimony today with the paramedics who responded to the scene, who, as you point out, are committed to doing their duty. There`s testimony from one of the officers that he just wanted to give Mr. Floyd a second chance at life.

I think the piece that the jury likely took away from the paramedic testimony, though, was the fact that Chauvin`s knee was still on George Floyd`s neck when the ambulance arrived, when the paramedics got out, and that they had to have him remove his knee, so that they could put Mr. Floyd onto a stretcher.

That`s just such a chilling visual image. It is very hard to argue that any kind of force was necessary at that point in this incident.

MELBER: Yes. And, as you say, this is how trials work. It`s piece by piece by piece.

But the jury that is getting that information where you go, oh, you had to call other people who also worked for the state to try to help resuscitate or save a life that was taken by the state. And so it really underscores that, as you say.

We have got more than one thing in tonight`s show. So I`m running out of time on this, but I also wanted to play for you the evidence of the officer`s exchange. Take a listen.



DEREK CHAUVIN, DEFENDANT: No, he`s staying put where we got him.

LANE: OK. I just worry about the -- the delirium or whatever.

CHAUVIN: Well, that`s why we got the ambulance coming.

LANE: OK, I suppose.


MELBER: Joyce, give us context for that.

VANCE: There is a murder three charge against Chauvin. And the gravamen of that murder three charge is that Chauvin behaved in a way that manifested reckless indifference to human life, that it`s tantamount to having the intent to kill someone, he was so reckless about their safety.

So, this video testimony where one of the officers is saying, hey, I`m worried, and Chauvin is not worried. And there are a lot of reasons at this point that he should be concerned, that he should be doing things other than continuing to grind his knee into George Floyd`s neck.

This is, I think, a very important piece of evidence that we will undoubtedly hear the prosecution highlight in closing argument.

Ari, it sounds a little bit dry at this point, right? I mean, I hate to engage in this clinical exercise with the evidence during such a difficult and painful case to listen to.


VANCE: But prosecutors have to make the technical points. And that`s what`s going on here.

MELBER: No, I appreciate that. I think viewers know you were a U.S. attorney. That`s the top job. It carries a lot of consequence.

You, with your colleagues, would make these calls yourself of when to charge something and when to seek punishment. And, as you say, it all has to be done meticulously. That`s one part of the system. There`s much criticism of the system. We have on that -- more on that tonight.

But there`s a part of this system that is supposed to be meticulous for fairness and for justice.

Joyce, thank you, as always.

We`re going to keep it moving, because there`s a whole `nother big top story we wanted to get to right now, the pressure and the fight back against these Georgia voter suppression laws, signs some of it`s working.

Georgia Representative Cannon speaking out today. This is the first time since she was arrested for simply trying to, as you saw there, knock on the door where she works, protest the secrecy involved, as the governor signed that bill.


STATE REP. PARK CANNON (D-GA): I believe the governor`s signing into law the most comprehensive voter suppression bill in the country is a far more serious crime.

He minimized the deaths of thousands who have paid the ultimate price for the right to vote.


MELBER: Activists on the ground in Georgia say they have her back. And they`re pushing these big boycotts of many companies in the state who won`t take sides, who won`t stand up on these issues.

President Biden, meanwhile, agreeing with the Major League Baseball All- Star Game, that it shouldn`t be in Georgia anymore either.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would strongly support them doing that. This is Jim Crow on steroids, what they`re doing in Georgia and 40 other states.


MELBER: Joining us now is "The New York Times"` Michelle Goldberg.

As I mentioned, we have got more than one story going. This one is obviously important.

Your view on what we`re seeing there in this backlash? I think we have seen this in a number of cases, where the incentives for corporate America and the incentives for the Republican Party are obviously, in some sense, aligned, in that Republican Party is the party of big business and low taxes, whatever sort of populist pretensions they put on.

But in terms of the people that they have to appeal to, they`re very different, right? The central crisis in American politics -- and I have said this over and over and over again -- is that the Republican Party is dependent on minority rule. It`s not interested in appealing or reaching a majority of the American people, whereas brands, big corporations, sort of, by definition, are trying to reach as many people as possible.

And they`re particularly -- they need to reach young people. They need to reach affluent people. And so they are subject to a sort of pressure that Republicans simply aren`t.

It`s something that we saw with the -- in North Carolina a couple of years ago, when they passed this really draconian anti-trans bill, and you saw huge numbers of boycotts, billions and billions of dollars in losses. And the pressure was enough that North Carolina both elected a Democratic governor, but also repealed that bill.

And so I think you will see similar kinds of pressure here, both on corporations to condemn Georgia and I would expect also just to boycott Georgia directly. I mean, it`ll be interesting to see what Hollywood does, because Georgia is a big site, has a big film industry. A lot of people make TV shows there and film movies there.

And so Hollywood is going to have some -- I would imagine something to say about this.

MELBER: All really great points. You mentioned the fact that there`s a problem with democracy, which brings us exactly the next thing I wanted to show you, Mitch McConnell saying Republicans just won`t support Biden`s jobs and infrastructure bill.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): And I think that package that they`re putting together now, as much as we would like to address infrastructure, is not going to get support from our side.


MELBER: He would like to do it. Well, so would a lot of his voters; 74 percent of Republicans support at least some kind of infrastructure improvement. A third even support doing it with tax increases.


MICHELLE GOLDBERG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I don`t think there was ever any possibility that the Republicans were going to cooperate with Biden on a big infrastructure package.

I mean, it does make you realize what an open opportunity Trump would have had if he actually had any sort of organization and initiative. He probably could have gotten a huge infrastructure bill passed with a lot of Democratic support, a fair amount of Republican support, and kind of could have had a legacy, other than the sort of the disgraceful farce that he has.

But that`s -- I think that it`s so important that Biden is approaching his promise -- promises around bipartisanship as something that appeals to people on both sides of the political divide, as opposed to something that appeals to Susan Collins, right?

And so this is a bipartisan initiative because it has the support -- overwhelming support of the majority of American people.

MELBER: Right.

GOLDBERG: And in some polls, it has more support when it -- when there are tax increases for the rich included than when it`s kind of paid for by debt or paid for in other ways.

MELBER: Yes. And cliches and bad ideas linger and endure for all sorts of the wrong reasons.

You and I have spoken about fact-checking this idea. If something has tens of millions of Republicans supporting it, by definition, one senator or 10 doesn`t cancel that out. It just adds to the number.

So, Collins, McConnell, whomever can`t cancel out all these other Republican voters. And it`s incumbent, I think, on Washington to sort of relearn that and not just use the, pun intended, incumbent premises about some of this.

Michelle`s going to stick with us. I know you agreed to. So thank you very much, because we have a break, but a lot more coming up, including why the president did something he hadn`t done yet today.

And tonight on THE BEAT, our special interview. We`re going to be joined by leaders from three different generations of civil rights advocacy. We`re talking about, of course, this trial, but also policing and the wider structural reforms that people are calling for.

The context here is, at the very beginning of the Trump presidency, we also gathered civil rights leaders. This was in Harlem for a frank, candid discussion about these problems and solutions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were young activists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We went where they didn`t want us, when they didn`t want us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will never forget the first time I was tear -gassed. And I was like, I just didn`t think that this would be something I would have to do.

REV. AL SHARPTON, HOST, "POLITICS NATION": Most of our leaders, Malcolm, Martin, got killed before they were 40. We just learned that our leaders could get old.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The lessons from that time, I think, are so pertinent to this moment right now.


MELBER: That`s tonight on THE BEAT. Stay with us.


MELBER: Here`s something about Joe Biden. He`s actually attended way more White House Cabinet meetings than most people.

But, today, he did it for the very first time as the actual president of the United States, his first full Cabinet meeting held today, promoting the new jobs and infrastructure plan we were covering. You could see the social distancing measures.

Only Biden spoke to cameras. It was quite a different vibe, to say the least, from Donald Trump`s first Cabinet meeting, when other officials were called upon one by one to praise him.


BIDEN: These Cabinet members will represent me in dealing with Congress, engage the public in selling the plan, and help work out the details.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Make America great again. And that`s what we`re doing, believe me.



REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: And blessing that you have given us to serve your agenda.

BETSY DEVOS, FORMER U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: Mr. President, it`s a privilege to serve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m privileged to be here, deeply honored.


MELBER: Michelle Goldberg is with us, "New York Times" columnist.

Michelle, we didn`t just do that for the shade or the LOLs. It actually relates to a serious point about governing, which is that, whatever energy or skill or whatever you want to call it Donald Trump had, it was endlessly rolled back into his own personal self, self-promotion, the thing that the founders and other government scholars have always been most worried about, that our public government powers could be abused for private gain.

And, here, whether one agrees with Joe Biden`s plans are not -- I`m here to report them, people make up their own minds -- it is clear that this Cabinet meeting, like so much that he`s been doing in these first 60 days or so, is about his view of what would be good for the U.S.

GOLDBERG: Yes, God, I mean, it`s easy to forget, it wasn`t that long ago, sort of what a dystopian nightmare that was.

And I think, look, today was a sign that this big jobs and infrastructure bill is going to be sort of full-court press for the next few months. The American Recovery act was a great accomplishment, but it was helped along by the urgency of the pandemic, the fact that sort of Congress knew they had to pass something along these lines.

It`s amazing that they were able to kind of stay as close to Biden`s initial proposal as they were. This is going to be a much bigger challenge. And so it`s interesting that he specified different people in his Cabinet who are going to be responsible both for working with Congress as they craft this bill, and also for selling different parts of it to the American people and making sure that the American people understand what is in it.

And because it`s such a multifaceted proposal, with transportation and health care and all of these different aspects, you basically -- it makes sense that you would have different people in the Cabinet who have authority over different parts of it.

MELBER: Right. And you walk us through again what he`s using from his knowledge of the White House, of administrations to try to do that, and then what the public`s got to decide.

It is expensive. But they`re arguing that it`s a huge return on investment, at a time when America has a lot of needs.

Michelle Goldberg joining us on more than one topic, thanks for being on THE BEAT tonight. Appreciate that.

Now, I want to tell you, right now, we`re heading into a time where the nation will be marking and remembering Martin Luther King`s legacy. He was assassinated 53 years ago this coming Sunday, with the hard work facing his generation.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: We do not want our freedom gradually. But we want to be free now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave?

KING: How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.


MELBER: And that brings us to what we have up next for you, a very special conversation here on THE BEAT, after four years of Trump with a new president, and wide, big pushes for social justice.

We are going to speak with four civil rights leaders and icons as part of a BEAT special report, "MLK`s America: The Road Ahead," next.


MELBER: The national reckoning on race right now.

We turn to something very special here on THE BEAT to mark 53 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

For that same date at the beginning of the Trump presidency, we actually brought together three generations of civil rights leaders to discuss the new challenges to social justice.

Now, at this beginning of the Biden presidency, we have convened a new panel of civil rights activists and icons in a virtual setting, because of the pandemic, to discuss the road ahead after a year of global protests spurred by the police killing of George Floyd.

Many have described these ongoing marches as the largest push for social justice since the 1960s.


PROTESTER: Say his name!

PROTESTERS: George Floyd!

PROTESTER: Say his name!

PROTESTERS: George Floyd!

WALLACE: An officer pressed his knee into Floyd`s neck for at least seven minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A knee that says black life does not matter.

PROTESTER: I can`t breathe!

PROTESTERS: I can`t breathe!

PROTESTER: I can`t breathe!

PROTESTERS: I can`t breathe!

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Continued protests across the country in many, many cities about the death of a woman named Breonna Taylor.

JACOB BLAKE SR., FATHER OF JACOB BLAKE: They shot my seven times. He`s a human being, and he matters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let`s stop thinking that our voice doesn`t matter and vote.








MELBER: Right now, of course, Americans are watching a police officer on trial for murder for George Floyd`s killing.

Now, some laws have been passed to address issues in policing, but the deep inequities and structural racism remain in America. And on January 6, we saw a mob that included militia members and white supremacists storming the Capitol.

So, tonight, we will look at what lasting changes still need to happen.

Four months before Dr. King was murdered, he spoke about how activism out in the streets can spur change in government.


KING: The most comprehensive civil rights bill that we have ever gotten came as a result of the Birmingham movement in 1963, and then the voting rights bill came as a result of the Selma movement in 1965.

Now, in spite of the fact that I`m worried about America, I always maintain hope.


MELBER: We turn now to our special panel, Reverend Al Sharpton, president and founder of the National Action Network and also our MSNBC colleague.

Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement and head of the Black to the Future Action Fund, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, who is an activist who`s worked with President Obama and is also, we should mention, an MSNBC analyst, and Courtland Cox, a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the 1960s and a civil rights expert.

Thank you to all of you for doing this.

Rev, I begin with you.

What, if anything, do you think is improved from this recent movement?

SHARPTON: We have seen a real movement that has been intergenerational and interracial.

But I think that we have learned a lot about how we can respect each other, even if we disagree. And I think that that kind of unity is the thing that really will bring us to the brink of real change.

MELBER: Courtland, you were there with SNCC. Do you see these three protests and the movement today as similar, as an echo, or, as Rev suggested, as broader?

COURTLAND COX, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Yes, I think -- so, thanks for inviting me.

I think, when we started out, I -- in 1963, `62, `61, basically, all we had was protests. They were -- we did not have the right to vote. We did not have any people in the halls of Congress. We did not have any economic infrastructure.

So, at that point, we -- what we had, we were spectators to power. And we were able to use what we had in terms of demonstrations to make a difference, to advance position and build an infrastructure within the black community that would now allow us to now exercise and participate in the arenas of power, both politically and economically.

I think I am really encouraged, because, as -- over the past six -- and I have been involved for 60 years -- I have seen that we have built the infrastructure that allowed us to do what happened in Georgia, that, because of Georgia, this country looks different.

And because of the black community, Georgia looked different. So I think that my focus really is, how do we now build and continue to build the political and economic infrastructure that makes a difference in the halls of power?

MELBER: As Courtland just said, Georgia and the Biden coalition was multiracial and really black people and women of color.

And yet 57 percent of white voters in America saw Trump for four years, and said, let`s have four more. And so, as we mark this day, any room -- I`m going to be direct and blunt, because here we are trying to do the work -- any white room someone walks in statistically is majority Trump voters.

And I want to play just briefly what they cosigned. Take a look.


TRUMP: Very fine people on both sides.

Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: A huge chunk of those domestic terrorism investigations involve racially motivated violent extremists fueled by some kind of white supremacy.

TRUMP: They`re bringing drugs, they`re bringing crime, they`re rapists.

These aren`t people. These are animals.

Some people call it the Chinese flu, the China flu, kung-flu, yes?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The deadly shootings at three spas. Most of the eight victims are believed to be Asian women.


MELBER: We put that together to reflect on all the racism and civil rights implications.

Your thoughts on that aspect of this today?

BRITTANY PACKNETT CUNNINGHAM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think we have to remember that the roots of white supremacy in America are deep and vast and wide.

That legacy is something that continues to be deeply expansive. And when I think about the King legacy, I not only think about Dr. King. I think about Coretta Scott King. I think about her efforts toward LGBTQ equality. And I think about her efforts to end gender violence. I think about the militarism that both her and Dr. King were fighting in their lifetimes.

We have the ability now, because of so much of the work that has been done by people on this panel and those who come even before us, we have the ability now to keep expanding that imagination, and to be as intersectional as possible to make sure that all black folks are free when we get done with this thing.

SHARPTON: Let me say this.

I think that Brittany went to where I wanted to go. And I think, in many ways, Donald Trump helped unite us, because he was a manicured, Northern, urban version of raw white supremacy, raw racism.

It helped us to deal with some of the contradictions we had to get out of the way, so -- as Mr. Cox said, so we could do a Georgia or do an Obama. We had to get rid of some of the sexism and homophobia in the movement.

Let`s not forget it was not just Dr. King. It was Ella Baker. It was Fannie Lou Hamer. It was Mrs. King. Mrs. King lectured me about: You have got to deal with the LGBTQ homophobia in the church.

And the more we started bringing down our barriers, the more we could fight the enemy. And I think that`s why there`s a threat. There`s no way we could have got the Georgia vote or the vote that Biden/Harris got if we were still arguing among ourselves.

But all of us, it`s like a choir. Some sing alto, some sing soprano, some sing bass. Brittany`s dad, he`s a preacher. Some of us can`t sing at all. We just move our lips.


SHARPTON: But it makes one a choir.

MELBER: Well, I can`t sing. So I appreciate you involving me at the very least.

Alicia, you were nodding?



And, honestly, when we`re talking about white nationalism and white supremacy in this country, and the rise of it, right, we have to also talk about the fact that, for many folks in this country, particularly for black people in America, we don`t think that enough is being done about racial terror and about racial injustice.

MELBER: Your organization has this new poll. We`re going to put some of that up for viewers for you to walk us through it.

We find in this poll black Americans have higher satisfaction with where the direction of the country`s going now, eager for more economic relief with what we`re living through, and a concern that too little attention is paid on the impact of racism and white supremacy, specifically on black communities.

Walk us through your findings.

GARZA: Well, that`s exactly it, Ari.

And the challenge that we`re facing here is that, with all of the hope and promise that black voters feel, with all of the power that we have been able to wield, we are delivering a clear mandate to this administration that statements about white supremacy and white nationalism are not enough.

For us, it`s important that our president and this administration send a message to America that this is not about prioritizing black communities over any other community. It`s about making sure that we understand that investing in black communities is an investment in all of us.

MELBER: So, let`s take that to Courtland, because, as mentioned, when you listen to Dr. King`s last speech, the mountaintop speech, he says many things, but, among them, he says he is there because they`re not being fair to the workers.

That included many black and brown workers. But he also was talking about all workers. And yet, to Alicia`s point, I want to show, for viewers, we mention how people view this. That`s views. That`s polling.

Now, let`s look, is that correct? And the answer is yes. The wealth gap in 1963 was that white households had seven times the wealth of black households. As of 2019, recent numbers, that is still 6.9 times, almost the exact same gap. And when you look at homeownership, the American dream, in 1970, the gap was about 24 points from white to black households in homeownership. In 2020, it`s grown by five points to a 29-point gap, Courtland.

COX: So, I think when we deal with the questions of wealth, as opposed to income, wealth is something that`s accumulated over time.

So, if my parents and my grandparents had certain kinds of advantages that allowed me to buy a house and pay -- to have a down payment that could not be afforded by a black community that did not have the tradition that allowed them to buy the wealth, then that whole wealth gap is going to come down slowly.

When you look at America`s economic situation, you are really looking at a pyramid, where, if you look at the top 5 percent, most of the wealth exists there, and then the bottom 95 percent, you have a different question, whether you`re talking about -- whether you`re talking about black people, whether you`re talking about people, whether you`re talking about Asians. Who are you talking about?

MELBER: And I mentioned Dr. King.

Here was some of what he was saying in 1967 about this poor people`s movement.


KING: Fifty million people in the United States of America who are poverty- stricken, making income less than the poverty level.

We have got to have a Selma or a Birmingham on new Montgomery around economic issues.


SHARPTON: Very clearly, if you read Dr. King`s last book, "Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?" which he wrote in `67, the year he made that speech. I was 13 years old, had just joined Operation Breadbasket, his economic arm in New York.

He had a two-pronged economic strategy, fighting for poor people -- he was working for the Poor People`s Campaign -- and Operation Breadbasket, which was holding the private sector accountable. We find that racism exists at every level of income, but, at the same time, the economic disparities, those at the bottom you, must be lifted in order for us to have what is fair and equal.

And we have got to stop that classism even in the black community that does not want to identify and care about the laborers or those that cannot be economically made viable.

We need political power, like brother Cox says, but we need them there to go to work for us. This is not about your career. This is about our community.

PACKNETT CUNNINGHAM: We have to understand that the foundation of white supremacy is actually a faulty premise.

The idea of whiteness being supreme above all else is a bed of lies, and, therefore, it has to consistently resort to either violence or, as Alicia referred to, a constant changing of the rules in order for white supremacy to continue to persist.

So, if it`s not being violent, then it`s trying to change the rules, so that none of us can be successful, and that those who have been hoarding power for generations can continue to do so.

MELBER: Right.

PACKNETT CUNNINGHAM: Every single thing we are facing right now comes back to that.

MELBER: And, as you say, that speaks to the spasm of both the politics of backlash and the very real white supremacist violence of backlash.

This is such, such an interesting conversation to me. I trust our viewers are getting something out of it.

We`re going to fit in a break.

But, when we come back, we have a lot more from our special panel. We have a prophetic statement by Reverend Sharpton we want to revisit, and the good news, the measurably good news, in political representation, Dr. King`s dream -- when we return.


MELBER: Welcome back to our special, "MLK`s America: The Road Ahead."

We have our esteemed panel still with us, Reverend Al Sharpton, Alicia Garza, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, and Courtland Cox.

And I want to pick up right where we were.

Courtland, we have been discussing several areas where the economic and systemic structure has not changed very much since the `60s. Then there are other areas of real progress. Given your work on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, I`m curious the living history you see here.

1970, in all of Congress, despite the diversity of this nation, only 2 percent of the Congress had African-American members. You go up to this -- through this new election, 2021, and it`s 11.5 percent. Your views on that seismic shift, as well as this most recent election?

COX: Yes, in fact, when -- in 1960, I think, when I started out, they were actually only four. So, I mean, going from four to 62 is quite important.

One of the things that Reverend Al and Alicia talked about in terms of the coming together of the black community presently, and particularly for 2020 election, and what was a shock to white supremacy is, they got 74 million votes, and they still lost by seven million.

They saw the need to not only change the rules, but to engage in the violence that you saw on January 6, because now they see power slipping away from them. My great fear is that they are now going to resort to -- either to violence or to legal mean that leads to autocracies that would be harmful to the United States.

MELBER: And that speaks, sir, to the feeling by some that they`re losing control, not only of the levers of power, but of the way society operates.

You can sense some of the cultural shift. Take a look.


ROGER GOODELL, COMMISSIONER, NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE: We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Black Lives Matter" was painted courtside, and the players carried protest messages on their jerseys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Making Juneteenth 2020 unlike any other, recognized as a paid holiday by companies like Twitter, MasterCard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Calls for the fashion industry to tackle accusations of racism.

BEYONCE KNOWLES, MUSICIAN: Black is king means black is regal and rich.

CARDI B, MUSICIAN: When I say voting, I`m not only talking about the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: De-center white men on all of these stories we`re telling.

MELBER: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, it belongs to all of us. Then we`re going to tell it in our language then.


MELBER: Alicia?

GARZA: Yes, I mean, it`s been incredibly important to see the way in which this movement is really saturating popular culture and saturating the mainstream.

The backlash that we`re seeing right now is very much also in response to the cultural shifts that we`re seeing.

MELBER: Right.

GARZA: But what they are responding to, right, is that there is an uprising against these principles of white supremacy being the fundamental organizing method of our economy, of our society, and of our democracy.

MELBER: Right.

GARZA: And they tend to do it right when they are also losing legislatively and when they are losing their political power blocs in cities and states and across the nation.

MELBER: We gathered on this same anniversary three years ago, a different time in so many ways we have all lived through.

But, Rev, you did say something that was quite poignant, and we wanted to revisit it, thinking about what`s happened since then. Let`s just take a look.


SHARPTON: We`re only the second generation that didn`t have to adjust to the fact that most of our leaders, Malcolm, Martin, got killed before they were 40.

We just learned that our leaders could get old.

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): Today, I feel more lucky, more than lucky, more than blessed but to be here. Consider changes that have occurred.


SHARPTON: Yes, I thank God that John Lewis lived to 80, when Dr. King and Malcolm and others didn`t live to 40.

And I`m glad that I was in a generation behind him and others that could mentor us. And we learned how to get old. We used to fight the old, saying, get off the stage. We have learned how to get older and understand young people have to have their space and have to have their deals the way they see it, just like we did.

I used to give Reverend Jackson and Reverend Jones a fit when I was young. And I think it`s a learning process because of that.

So, I`m glad, as I stand with the family of George Floyd, that I can also embrace the fact there are young activists in Minneapolis that are going to do things whether I`m there or not, and whether National Action Network is to exist, those young people in there that follow Alicia Garza as much or more than they do me are going to be there or not.

That`s the maturity of the movement. One of the proudest things I have seen is when President Obama had the Task Force on Policing that he put Brittany on the task force. Marc Morial, those of us older, supported that, because, if there`s no continuity of movement from generation to generation, even though it may look different, there is no movement if it dies with you.

MELBER: Rev`s point about why the movement needs both generations.

Lightning round, in a sense or a word, the response, starting with Courtland.

COX: Young people, as Reverend Al said, are now seeking as they go forward to figure out how they use the informational wealth to succeed as they engage in struggle.



PACKNETT CUNNINGHAM: Black people are not a trend. We have been here. We will remain here.

MELBER: Alicia?

GARZA: The purpose of building relationships and continuity across generations is to build and transform the way that power operates.

MELBER: In a sense or a word, what MLK means to you and 2021, since we call this the road ahead, starting with Courtland.

COX: I think I`m probably the only one on the panel who knew Dr. King and worked with him.

And I think he was, to me, inspiration.

MELBER: And your word or thought for 2021?

COX: I think the word participation.

MELBER: Brittany?

PACKNETT CUNNINGHAM: To both, I think of Dr. King`s conception of love and power.

MELBER: Alicia?

GARZA: I`m going to say the fierce urgency of now.

MELBER: Reverend Sharpton.

SHARPTON: He`s the model of my theology, my activism, and what I measure myself to try and become; `21 means to me that we have got to reimagine what the American dream is by reimagining what America is.


And I hope our viewers and everyone together can take these reflections and figure out how to turn them into action in that spirit.

I want to thank Courtland Cox, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, Alicia Garza, and our colleague Reverend Al Sharpton for being part of this special discussion.

Thank you.

GARZA: Thank you.

MELBER: And we will be right back.


MELBER: We have been covering a lot of different ground tonight.

And now we turn to some good news on the road out of the pandemic. The U.S. has hit another major vaccine milestone today; 100 million Americans have now gotten their first dose, 56 million fully vaccinated, Pfizer announcing the vaccine provides effective protection for at least six months.

Experts say, as these studies continue, that time period could grow. They`re still getting their arms around how all of this works. But the bottom line is, it`s working.

Now, that doesn`t mean you`re out of the woods either. Infections are rising in 25 different states. Here`s the CDC director urging caution.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: As we see increases in cases, we can`t afford to let our guard down. We are so close, so very close to getting back to the everyday activities we all miss so much.

But, now, we`re not quite there yet.


MELBER: That is, very literally, a public service announcement.

Now, one final note I did want to share with you.

We really appreciated the experts that we had here on civil rights in this conversation as our special commenced tonight, "MLK`s America: The Road Ahead."

There are other parts that we haven`t been able to show you from Rev Sharpton and the other experts. And we`re going to post that tonight online.

So, you can go on to our Twitter at @THEBEATWITHARI or @AriMelber, and we will post the link on YouTube. You can also always go on YouTube for these kinds of things and just search "MLK Melber." More than one way to find it. We want to share with you more of what aired.

I also want you to know, while we`re doing programming notes, that my colleague Joy Reid will have the first interview with Georgia state Representative Park Cannon. That`s coming up tonight. That`s her first discussion on air since that very controversial arrest when she protested the Georgia voter bill.

"THE REIDOUT WITH JOY REID" comes up right after this short break.