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Secretary Esper Claims Not Aware of Church Photo Op; Interview with Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak; Interview with Anti-Racism Activists Tamika Mallory and Tim Wise. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 3, 2020 - 10:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: General Marks, you served for decades in the U.S. Military, you commanded forces in combat. Esper, though he wears civilian clothes now, served in the military. As he referenced, graduated from West Point.

Is the phrase repeatedly used in that press conference, "not aware" -- he was not aware that this was going to be a photo op at the church, he was not aware that violence was used to clear peaceful protestors -- is that sufficient explanation from the top civilian in the U.S. Military?

JAMES MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think it's fair to say that he was in a position where he was not going to be fed this information. He may not have asked the question, which would really be a fault against what he was getting into.

But I think it's also naive to assume -- and I'm not assuming that Secretary Esper is a naive guy, but let's be frank -- where the president goes, there is going to be politics and there will be photo ops. So he knew completely what he was getting into. But to Barbara's point, certainly, the chairman Mark Milley was there as well. So they understood the context within this movement to Lafayette Square.

I think it's important that what we heard from the secretary is primarily the use of the word "battlespace," I mean, that's part of the doctrinal language that is just engrained in everything you say. It's like saying, "Please pass the salt and pepper." I mean, we need to give him a pass on that. Inartful, but I get it. And any (ph), raise the hand.

But I think what really probably -- I think he didn't have a swing and a miss here. But I think what he could have done is said, Look, the professionalism of the military is not at question here. We've been in combat for over 19 years, this is the most professional military we've seen ever in our history. Let's just put that on the table.

Mea culpa, I made a mistake. I walked with the president, we had to clear crowds, I shouldn't have been a part of that --

SCIUTTO: Yes. MARKS: -- we politicized something that has the military written all

over it, you have my apologies, period. What are your questions? Could have been a little more abrupt, I think it would have gotten to the point far better.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Boris Sanchez is also with us. And, Boris, obviously, you were reporting on all of this in the day subsequently. But I do want to ask you about a statement the president made that is confounding. And that is that he is now trying to re-explain or explain the visit. And when they were taken down to the bunker for protection at the White House, saying he was doing some sort of inspection?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Poppy. The president on a radio show this morning, saying that he went down to the bunker along with Secret Service agents and the first family on Friday night. He alleges that he went down during the day, and that it was for a very short amount of time for an inspection.

Our reporting indicates something a bit different, that he was taken down there by Secret Service agents as police were clashing with protestors, just outside the White House. So the president, trying to spin the events of the weekend. Later on, he tweeted that he felt completely safe --


SANCHEZ: -- the entire time that these clashes were going on.

We should point out, as far as the secretary of defense goes in that statement, he did say that it wasn't a military operation, what we witnessed on Monday, the clearing of protestors from just outside Lafayette Square so the president could have his photo opportunity.

He did toe the line though, and echo what we've heard from the president and conservative allies of the president, especially on social media, suggesting that tear gas wasn't used. You mentioned, Poppy, that there were irritants that were used to disperse these peaceful protestors --


SANCHEZ: -- there is a spinning and a whitewashing of what actually happened here on Monday night --


SANCHEZ: -- Esper was very careful, not going too far but saying that tear gas wasn't used. Well, pepper spray and smoke canisters largely has the same effect -- Jim, Poppy.



SCIUTTO: Poppy, as you said, a distinction without a difference. And for the folks watching, you can see the video for yourself --


SCIUTTO: -- what happened there, to those protestors.

HARLOW: Thank goodness, right, Jim? There's video of that. And look --


HARLOW: -- video of the killing of George Floyd and that video, both those videos really say it all.


Thanks to everyone, we appreciate it. Quick break, we're back on the other side.


HARLOW: Protests, demands for justice, growing in Los Angeles overnight, hundreds once again arrested. But the bigger picture here -- and this is such an important one -- is thousands, thousands for the most part, Jim, just all over the country, remaining peaceful last night.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And that's something we try to convey. You have to look at each situation. It is a very varied picture on the ground. One group, marching and gathering outside the residence of the Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti -- that's him there -- this is hours earlier, Mayor Garcetti took a knee with protestors, just outside City Hall. The National Guard as well as the city's curfew will remain in place there tonight.

Well, as violence nationwide begins to calm in many cities, we turn to Coral Gables, Florida and this: police officers, kneeling and praying with protestors there.

HARLOW: An important note, this was last Friday, a day when other cities were literally burning and experiencing chaos. These officers, and their chief, were praying and talking, carrying on a dialogue with protestors. Coral Gables Police Chief Ed Hudak joins us now.

We're so happy to have you, and we think that that picture just really says so very, very much. So could you talk about that moment, especially considering the fact that it happened when so many cities were burning?

ED HUDAK, CHIEF, CORAL GABLES, FLORIDA POLICE DEPARTMENT: Thank you, first, Jim and Poppy, for everything.


One clarification, that I know we kind of said it happened in my city, in Coral Gables, but the picture of those officers, those were all chiefs of police and deputy chiefs of police from the Miami-Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police. Those were my colleagues, and we got together that day, all of them -- Director Ramirez, obviously Chief Colina from the city of Miami, Chief Clements -- we all came together at my request, to meet with a peaceful protest group -- and I think that's important.

You know, the city of Coral Gables, through its elected leadership, has always embraced peaceful dialogue. And our point to these -- this group was, if you're peaceful, we could present an opportunity to talk to the policymakers. And we started.

And as you said, you know, from that peaceful demonstration, we as a collective group of chiefs of police, here in South Florida, responded and helped Miami Beach, the city of Miami, Miami-Dade County, which I think now, it's on us as the Chiefs' Association, to hold up our end of the bargain of that dialogue, to create change.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, we appreciate that, just watching those images, so powerful in the midst of what is such an unsettling time in this country.

I want to ask you about how you approach these things, because I know you can't tolerate violence, you can't tolerate looting, you've got a responsibility there. On the other hand, you want to reach out to the people, these are your fellow citizens.

You've heard the president encourage local and state leaders and police to, quote, "dominate" protests and protestors. I wonder, as a law enforcement officer, is that your goal? And does that kind of language help?

HUDAK: Well, I believe as a law enforcement professional -- throughout the country, and I can speak specifically to South Florida -- we are not in a position to antagonize. We are -- in this case, in my city, with the help of my fellow chiefs, we were able to have that dialogue.

You know, police officers and the policies that are written are to use the appropriate force with what they are confronted with, you know? That's our core mission statement as far as how we use force. Do we want to? No, that's not how we do this in South Florida. We are collectively together.

If we are met with force, then we need to use the reasonable amount of force, and I think that's the conversation that the country is having about police brutality. You know, we've been able to handle that form our side here in South Florida.

HARLOW: Chief Hudak, we heard the national security advisor, Robert O'Brien, say on Sunday on this network that, no, he does not believe that there is systemic racism in police forces across the United States, just a few bad apples, he thinks.

Well, the St. Paul police chief just told us, he does think there is systemic racism in police forces across the country.

Do you think there is? HUDAK: I think there is a bit of racism throughout the country. It is in our profession. You know, you had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the other day, 99.9 percent of our police officers are good police officers, we took an oath. Part of that oath in Coral Gables, is we hold ourselves and others accountable for our actions. We need, as a culture of police officers, to weed out the bad apples.

I don't know if it's racism, but this country suffers from implicit bias that we have to recognize. Because as long as we recognize it within ourselves, you know, this is something that's going to help address the pain. And these pains are legitimate.


HUDAK: As police officers now, with everything that you all have done, that we see this as chiefs, we don't have to wait. We saw, you know, eight minutes and 46 seconds. And (inaudible) wise, that the officers, you know, that stood there are just as culpable. And that's the accountability part of our oath.

SCIUTTO: Listen, wise words. Chief Hudak, important words. We appreciate it. Let's keep up the conversation. I think a lot of Americans want to hear the kinds of things you're saying and doing, and see the things you're doing.

HUDAK: Well, to your point, you know, the chiefs in that group that you saw -- and that has kind of gone viral -- we are meeting with that group on Friday, as we promised. I understand, I said patience, and I apologize to that group. Because it's not a time for patience for these people. But if they're peaceful --


HUDAK: -- and now I see them turning on the violent ones, I think we're -- this is the beginning of the change.

SCIUTTO: We wish you and your officers the best of luck. Thanks very much.

HUDAK: Thank you --



SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.


HARLOW: So when the protests end -- because they do, eventually -- how do things actually change? for many, it is all about accountability. Here is social justice activist Tamika Mallory.


TAMIKA MALLORY, CO-FOUNDER, UNTIL FREEDOM: Do what you say this country is supposed to be about the land of the free for all. It has not been free for black people, and we are tired. Don't talk to us about looting. Y'all are the looters. America has looted black people. America looted the Native Americans when they first came here, so looting is what you do. We learned it from you.



SCIUTTO: Tamika Mallory joins us now. She's the co-founder of the organization Until Freedom. We're also joined by Tim Wise, he's an activist, anti-racism educator, author -- he's written seven books, including "Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority."

Thanks to both of you for joining us. Tamika, if I could begin with you, you have said there is an easy way to stop protests like this from happening again. That is, charging and convicting cops who commit these acts. As you know, many cops are charged, very difficult to convict because of things such as qualified immunity that give them special protections here.

There is now legislation that's been proposed by some -- even Justin Amash -- to change that. Do you see that as a substantive change that would make a difference?

MALLORY: Absolutely. We certainly need to change the laws that protect police officers who abuse people, innocent people, unarmed individuals. That needs to be done, that's an accountability measure.

And, you know, we found out in New York City, where I live, and I was deeply involved with the Eric Garner protests and the movement around getting Daniel Pantaleo fired, the chokehold that he used to murder Eric Garner is actually illegal in New York. It still took us five years to get him fired, but he was fired.

In Minneapolis, we found that the chokehold is not even on the books there, it's not illegal. And so across the country, we don't even have one standard. And that needs to be dealt with as well.

HARLOW: Right, right. That's a good point, Tamika. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries has re-proposed legislation he proposed in 2015, after Eric Garner, to federally outlaw that use of chokeholds in police departments across the country. We'll see if it goes anywhere.

If I could ask you, Tim, so one of my children's teachers sent all parents a letter yesterday, and it was a link to this article -- let me pull it up -- called, "A Letter to White Parents." And this is what really struck me in it.

It asks all of us, quote, "Do you actively talk about white privilege with your children?" It goes on to say, "Black mother are 243 percent more likely to die from pregnancy -- or childbirth-related causes -- so, even before birth, your child benefits from white privilege. It is never too early to start appropriate conversations about this."

When should parents do this with their kids, and how? TIM WISE, ACTIVIST AND ANTI-RACISM EDUCATOR: Well, you know, we started doing it when our kids were like probably six. I'm sure they hated me at the time for trying to talk about white privilege when they were trying to watch a Disney film.

But to be perfectly honest, it's a great place to explore it. The media, the things that our kids are being exposed to. And no, at first, they're not going to understand. But you keep coming back to it, you keep coming back to it in age-appropriate ways.

I think the important thing for white parents to keep in the front of our mind, is that if black children in this country are not allowed innocence and childhood without fear of being killed by police or marginalized in some other way, then our children don't deserve innocence.

If Tamir Rice can be shot dead in a public park, playing with a toy gun, something white children do all over this country, every day, without the same fear of being shot -- if Tamir Rice can be killed, then white children need to be told, at least at the same age. If they can't be innocent, we don't get to be innocent.

And if we would keep that in the front of our minds, then perhaps we would be able to hear what black and brown folks are telling us every day, and have been for many years.

SCIUTTO: Tamika, many protestors, understandably, will express frustration that they voted before. They voted before for different leaders, different representatives, and yet the violence continues.

The Atlanta mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, she wrote just a stirring op- ed in "The New York Times," pushing, though, people to vote, particularly this November, saying, "Think of what could be possible if each of us, allied in favor of justice, spent more than nine minutes getting people registered."

TEXT: "Think of what could be possible if each of us, allied in favor of justice, spent more than nine minutes getting people registered in preparation to make change at the federal, state and local levels this fall. That would be the most effective response, the deepest payback, for each minute that passed when that Minneapolis policeman pressed into Mr. Floyd's innocent body."

SCIUTTO: I wonder, is that a message that resonates so close to the election? Is the frustration so great that folks -- or many -- have given up on voting as a way to enact change?

MALLORY: No, I think people are going to vote, for sure. But I think you need voting, that's one part of it, and you need protest in the streets. Because that heightens the need, the desire, and the understanding that we have to show up at the polls. It's a direct connection.

And oftentimes, people like to talk about it in silos. That if you are a protestor, then you're tired of voting. And if you are a person who votes, you believe that that is the only way. And we know that not to be true. They work in conjunction.


When you have fire and energy in the street, where people are really passionate and they're feeling like they want to see a change, when they finally go home -- because as you said, Poppy, eventually they go home -- when they go home and they sit down and say, What's next? And they know that November is coming, and they see that this president is polarizing, he is disrespectful, he is actually dangerous and he is, in many ways, responsible for what we see happening in this country.

A lot of people who are out there protesting, yes, they care about George Floyd, and of course they are upset about police brutality. But they're also (inaudible) because people (ph) have been locked in their homes for the last three months, 40 million Americans don't have jobs, and on top of all of that, you're in a situation where you're listening to a president tell you that, well actually, that the country could have done something that they didn't, that we did not do.

So we didn't save 100,000 Americans, and that's frustrating for folks as well. So they're not just out there for police brutality. They're out there because the entire system is guilty.

HARLOW: Let's do this. We wish this conversation were a lot longer, we're up against a commercial. Let's have you both back, soon --


HARLOW: -- OK? We'll continue it. Thank you, Tamika, thank you, Tim, very much.


Much more breaking news. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he does not support using active troops, military troops, in cities to stop protestors. More on that, ahead. Stay right there.



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm --