As thousands take to the streets of Minneapolis to protest against the police killing of George Floyd for the third night in a row, we go to Minneapolis to speak with City Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison. Police pointed an automatic rifle at his head in 2015 when he was peacefully protesting the police killing of another African American man, Jamar Clark. We also speak with Kandace Montgomery with the Black Visions Collective, which is calling for the abolition of police.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Thousands took to the streets of Minneapolis Thursday as protests against the police killing of George Floyd rocked the city for the third night in a row. Demonstrators set fire to a police precinct just hours after prosecutors said they were not sure yet if they would criminally charge Derek Chauvin, the white police officer who pinned African American man George Floyd to the ground by his neck for eight minutes while Floyd gasped for air. In a video that’s now been seen around the world, Floyd repeatedly gasps, “I can’t breathe.” The four officers, including Chauvin, have since been fired, but not arrested.
On Thursday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman was questioned about the delay in charging and arresting the officers involved in the killing of George Floyd.
MIKE FREEMAN: That video is graphic and horrific and terrible, and no person should do that. But my job, in the end, is to prove that he violated a criminal statute, and there is other evidence that does not support a criminal charge. …
We have to do this right. We have to prove it in a court of law. And I will just point to you the comparison to what happened in Baltimore in the Gray case. It was a rush to charge, it was a rush to justice, and all of those people were found not guilty. I will not rush to justice. I’m going to do this right. And those folks who know me in the African community know I will do my very level best, but I will not rush justice, because justice cannot be rushed.
AMY GOODMAN: George Floyd’s murder sparked an uprising in Minneapolis, as some protesters lit fires and destroyed building fronts. Solidarity actions brought thousands to the streets of Los Angeles; Phoenix; Denver; Columbus, Ohio. In Louisville, Kentucky, at least seven people were shot while protesting the police killing of a Black woman, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old aspiring nurse who was shot to death by police inside her own apartment in March. Gunfire erupted as demonstrators surrounded a police vehicle Thursday night there. It’s unclear who fired the shots. Back in Minnesota, the governor, Tim Walz, has called in the National Guard as mass protests rage in Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
On Twitter, President Trump called for violence, calling protesters ”THUGS,” and threatening, quote, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter responded by flagging Trump’s tweet, warning, “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible,” unquote.
In another tweet, Trump attacked Minneapolis’s mayor, Jacob Frey, who’s called for the arrest of now-fired police officer Derek Chauvin over the killing of George Floyd, which the mayor called “murder.” Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, traveled to Minneapolis and spoke at a vigil Thursday at the spot where George Floyd was killed.
GWEN CARR: As you know, this happened to me almost six years ago. And this is just opening up a old wound, pouring salt into it. They keep coming into — the police officers come into our neighborhoods. They brutalize. They terrorize. They murder our children. And we have done nothing.
AMY GOODMAN: Protests in Minneapolis are ongoing. This morning, the Minnesota State Patrol arrested CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, along with his producer and camera crew, live on national television outside the charred remains of the 3rd police precinct. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz later apologized to CNN over the arrests. The crew was released, and Omar was reporting on the streets an hour and a half later.
The cover of today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune reads “State of Agony.” That agony expressed in this short excerpt of the damning video of the officer with his knee on the neck of George Floyd. This is a warning: This is extremely graphic and violent. We are only showing it to show the extreme nature of what has happened.
EYEWITNESS 1: You have your knee on his neck.
EYEWITNESS 2: You’ve got your knee right on his neck, officer.
EYEWITNESS 1: He ain’t even resisting arrest.
GEORGE FLOYD: I cannot breathe.
EYEWITNESS 3: Are you having fun?
GEORGE FLOYD: I cannot breathe.
EYEWITNESS 1: You’re just a grown — you’re a tough guy. You’re a tough guy, huh?
OFFICER TOU THAO: What’s that?
EYEWITNESS 1: I said he’s a tough guy. He’s not even resisting arrest, bro.
OFFICER TOU THAO: Did you get the whole part when we fought with him?
EYEWITNESS 1: But, bro, why are you just sitting there? He ain’t doing nothing now. Put him in the car.
GEORGE FLOYD: Don’t kill me. Don’t kill me.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests: Kandace Montgomery, executive director of Black Visions Collective, a Black-led, queer- and trans-centering community organization based in the Twin Cities in Minnesota, and Jeremiah Ellison, Minneapolis city councilmember.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jeremiah, let’s begin with you. Can you respond to everything that has taken place, beginning with that video, that authorities do not want people to see — some of the authorities — though the mayor himself, of Minneapolis, has called the killing of George Floyd by the police officer “murder”?
JEREMIAH ELLISON: I think the mayor is absolutely right on that point. I think it was murder. I think that’s evident from the video. And not only on officer Chauvin’s part, but I think that the three officers aiding him in the murder of George Floyd should also face charges for what transpired there, what happened there.
You know, I think that, obviously, Minneapolis is in a state of unrest. And while the protests might not be unfolding in a way that I would personally like, I think that our response, the police response, to protesters has been so brutal, especially early on, before things were violent. Our police force responded in a way that was so brutal, it’s hard for me to say that we have any moral ground to stand on when it comes to those calls for peace that I’ve seen from some of my colleagues.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, some people may have been wondering, from seeing this video, where the other two officers are. You’ve got Chauvin with his knee on the neck of George Floyd. You’ve got Thao, the officer standing next to him. Apparently, Chauvin has something like 18 complaints against him, Thao something like six. Where the other two are, new video has surfaced of the other two officers holding down George Floyd right next to, but behind the police car of — right next to Chauvin.
JEREMIAH ELLISON: Yeah. I mean, I think that they are as complicit in this murder as the other two — as the first two officers. And I think that they need to be held accountable for that.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you have the four officers. How is it possible that they have not been arrested yet? We’re not talking about convicted or tried. But you look at what happened with George Floyd himself. He was being arrested by police.
JEREMIAH ELLISON: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: That happened suddenly.
JEREMIAH ELLISON: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Yet, after days of this video being out — even in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, the authorities did not want that video out; they had it for months. It’s the horror of authorities when a video like this gets out. But within a few days of it getting out, the retired officer and his son and another person involved were charged with murder. What’s happening in Minneapolis? And what do you make of the Hennepin County Attorney Mike [Freeman] saying there may be exonerating evidence?
JEREMIAH ELLISON: I think it’s completely inappropriate. I think that the video is self-evident. And I think that the ball is in the district attorney’s hands and that he needs to move forward with what we’re seeing in that video. And if he wants to sort of pass on that duty to other state law enforcement, I think that he should do that. But I think that every day that we delay justice, you know, we’re potentially denying justice. And I think that the public certainly feels that way, and you’re seeing that in the protests.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Kandace Montgomery into this conversation. You’re with the Minneapolis organization Black Visions. Talk about what you’re demanding. Have you been in the streets? Can you respond to what’s happening there? And can you describe for us when you first saw this video, Kandace?
*KANDACE MONTGOMERY: Yeah. Thanks for having me on. Right now Black Visions as well as Reclaim the Block and other community members are, and for the last several years have been, calling on our City Council and mayor to divest from the police and invest in community-led safety solutions. We want justice for George Floyd, and we know that justice isn’t enough. And now is the time to defund the police and invest in community.
And I was on the streets, not last night, the night before, for some time. I actually live with my dad, who is really vulnerable to COVID-19, and so I’ve had to figure out ways to keep myself safe so that I can still care for him. But yeah, I was there witnessing the rebellion being led by young Black and Brown folks.
Upon seeing the video — I haven’t really watched the full video, because I feel like I’ve honestly seen enough of those. But the murder did happen two blocks from my home. Cup Foods is actually my regular corner deli, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: So, describe when you saw the video. And I wanted to ask both you and Councilmember Ellison about the showing of the video. I mean, we’re seeing the fires repeatedly, but what has provoked it, this horrific film, how do you feel about it being shown on television?
*KANDACE MONTGOMERY: Yeah, I mean, I think I have complicated feelings. I think it’s really important that especially people who are not Black, who do not live in the terror and violence of police departments across the country and across the globe on a daily basis, really need to see the hard truths that Black kids grow up with and that Black people see on a regular basis. As well, I think that it’s concerning, the ways that we’re so willing to broadcast Black death. And how are we actually honoring those folks that we are losing? So, I feel really mixed about it. I think there are many benefits to being able to see these. The same thing with Philando. Having these videos —
AMY GOODMAN: Castile.
*KANDACE MONTGOMERY: Yeah — have mobilized and activated community members and have led to real change. Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And also, Councilmember Ellison, your thoughts?
JEREMIAH ELLISON: I think I share really similar thoughts. On an emotional level, I never want to see the video, and I never want to see somebody’s last moments, especially when, in their last moments, they are — there’s an attempt to deny their dignity, such as the case with George Floyd. I never want to see that shown to the public. But often it is the emergence of these videos that even gets us a chance at the pursuit of justice.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to a time a few years ago, ask you about the police killing of 24-year-old African American Jamar Clark, November 2015. During a protest at the 4th Precinct police station, an officer dressed in fatigues and carrying what appeared to be a gas-launching gun pointed his weapon at you as you stood with your hands up. At the time, you had long dreads, Jeremiah. A Star Tribune photographer captured the moment. And your dad, then-Congressmember Keith Ellison, who’s now the attorney general of Minnesota, tweeted, writing, “Photo is agonizing for me to see. My son is PEACEFULLY protesting w/ hands up; officer is shouldering gun. Why?” And he spoke about it on Democracy Now! at the time.
REP. KEITH ELLISON: Well, my first reaction when I saw the picture of Jeremiah was horror. I would gladly face whatever dangers were necessary, but to have my son have to face it is another thing. He’s a 24-year-old guy. He has a strong passion for justice. He’s a professional artist. And he doesn’t think he needs his dad worrying about him like that. But I can’t help it. I remember when he was just a little boy, and now he’s a grown man. And I actually am a little proud that he feels this burning desire to stand up for what’s right and to make a better society. But yet, that picture was very, very disturbing. And we’re going to — not going to let it sit there. I mean, to shoulder a weapon like that at nonviolent protesters is outrageous. It’s a violation of decency. And we’re going to find out whether it’s a violation of law.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Keith Ellison, former Congressmember, first Muslim member of Congress, now the attorney general of Minnesota. And, Jeremiah, at the time, you were protesting in the streets, nearby the 3rd Precinct, at the 4th Precinct. Can you talk about this arc of your life, from standing in the streets protesting the police killing of Jamar Clark to now being a city councilmember and you’re protesting a similar killing?
JEREMIAH ELLISON: Yeah. You know, what I think is really interesting about the last couple years, since that incident occurred, is that, you know, I showed up there as a neighbor. You know, my dad mentioned that I’m an artist. And that’s — I had my art studio, and I grew up in the neighborhood, that I now represent. And I wasn’t sort of one of the organizers of the event.
And as a matter of fact, Kandace was one of the main organizers, who was really holding it down and who is somebody I really sought guidance from at the 4th Precinct occupation.
You know, I think that while I’ve always been involved in politics, and while I’ve always had sort of this desire to pursue justice, that event really, really politicized me in a major way, and it made me realize that we have to be — we need leaders to be more creative, more bold in pursuing and ensuring that that kind of thing doesn’t happen again.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I want to ask both of you, starting with Kandace Montgomery, as we wrap up, what you’re demanding right now. The four officers have been fired, but they haven’t been charged. What are you demanding happen to them, and overall around the issue of police brutality?
*KANDACE MONTGOMERY: Right now we are really honing in on a demand to the mayor and the City Council to defund the police. We want justice for George Floyd, and we think accountability with the officers is really necessary. And too often we just lean on that accountability and feed more into a prison system that continues to be harmful to all of our communities. And so now is really the time for the Minneapolis City Council and mayor to defund the police and invest in community. As well, we are calling for the Minneapolis Police Department to acknowledge the harm of their institution in the ways that it has violated the dignity and rights of Black communities and families, make an official apology, and then continue the work.
AMY GOODMAN: And let me also ask you, Kandace — Tamika Mallory and others have been warning people about provocateurs on the streets, and I’m wondering your thoughts on this.
*KANDACE MONTGOMERY: Absolutely. I think that that is always a real issue. We know the history of COINTELPRO and other state-led interventions to quiet and quell Black organizing and rebellion. And so I think it’s very important that folks who are on the streets are being wary of who’s actually aligned with the values and the reasons why they are out there, and who’s not.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, your final response, Jeremiah Ellison, also with the CNN whole camera crew being arrested? They were there when there were no police at the fires, early this morning, around 4:00, around 3:00, and then he showed the local police moving in. And before they even landed on the ground getting out of their police cars, they were tear-gassing people who were on the sidewalk. CNN was showing all of this. And then Omar Jimenez himself was handcuffed and taken in. And he himself, when he came out, said, you know, he understood that the reason he’s out on the street now is because the images were shown of him being arrested as he reasonably said, “What do you want us to do?” to the State Patrol who had moved in.
JEREMIAH ELLISON: I think it’s inexcusable, I think, not only what happened to the CNN reporters, but, you know, again, at the beginning of this protest, there were protesters who were being sprayed with mace, unprovoked by our officers. I think that some of our city leadership has struggled to clarify whether officers are acting rogue or whether this is a part of the plan. And I know that I called that into question. I’ve demanded that we take a different approach. And that demand has sort of fallen on deaf ears. And —
AMY GOODMAN: And, City Councilmember, you had Josh Campbell, the white CNN reporter, not arrested, narrating what was happening to the reporter of color of CNN, Omar Jimenez. But finally, President Trump calling the protesters ”THUGS” and then saying, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” his tweet being flagged with a warning by Twitter, saying it encourages violence. Your response to the president of the United States?
JEREMIAH ELLISON: Well, I’m ready to make sure that we keep the residents of Minneapolis safe. That’s including from the president. And I think that while the way that protest unfolds might be not — it might not be neat, it might be — some might consider it unsightly, but at the end of the day we’re seeing damaged property, and he’s talking about shooting and killing people, citizens, residents of our city. I think it’s completely inappropriate, and it’s not anything that I would welcome in Minneapolis.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremiah Ellison, I want to thank you for being with us, a city councilmember of Minneapolis, and Kandace Montgomery, executive director of Black Visions Collective, a Black-led, queer- and trans-centering community organization based in the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
Next up, as the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic shifts to Latin America, so too does the use of COVID-19 as a pretext for police repression. We’ll look at a new Amnesty International report. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Ella’s Song” by Sweet Honey in the Rock, Ella for Ella Baker, the great human rights leader.