MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Cities across the country are once again bracing for more protests and possible violence tonight as anger over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis persists. The protests have focused on accountability in the death of Floyd and others who have died in police custody or similar circumstances. But there has also been seemingly unfocused destruction as well as looting. In several cities, local officials are now imposing curfews. We'll have the latest information from several locations in just a few minutes.
But we're going to hear a variety of voices throughout this hour with perspectives on this painful moment where questions are being raised again about citizenship, about the value of human life and how we're coexisting as citizens in what seems like two Americas. We'll hear now from Cornell William Brooks. He is an attorney. He's currently a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School where he runs a Civil Rights Clinic. He's also a past president of the NAACP and an ordained minister. And he's with us now.
Mr. Brooks, thanks so much for joining us.
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS: Oh, it's good to be with you.
MARTIN: Well, first of all, how are you? I mean, I'm asking because the last few months have brought up a lot for African Americans, but in particular, I have to say, for African American men. I mean, first the awareness of the disparities in COVID-19 deaths, which are falling disproportionately on African Americans. And then what we're seeing now is - I just want to ask you, how are you doing? And what does this bring up for you?
BROOKS: Well, you know, as a black man and the father of two sons, married to a black woman and working in a multiracial, multiethnic community, these events are triggering and traumatizing. And what I mean by that is looking at George Floyd, I see my sons. I see my father, my uncles, the people in my community. His humanity pinned to the pavement is my humanity.
This is not something on my Twitter feed. It's not an interesting issue. It's literally watching your humanity be brutalized in real time in slow motion on video with a hashtag appended to it. So it's very traumatizing.
MARTIN: I do want to mention something on your - that you tweeted. You said, why is America actually encouraging riots with this immoral message? Black people's minor and imaginary crimes - zero tolerance. Police brutalizers - maximum tolerance. Attack white property - arrest immediately. Wear blue and kill black people - no arrest necessary. You're clearly saying something about kind of a dissonance there. Would you talk a little bit more about that? And is it your view that this dissonance is what encourages riots?
BROOKS: Oh, absolutely. America - or some authority figures, many authority figures and certainly police departments are sending a morally mixed message, which is to say, attack, brutalize black bodies, operate with impunity. Attack white property, and there will be arrest and accountability. When economic interests are threatened, we call out the National Guard.
When black bodies are brutalized and traumatized, we call, and we convene a commission - no deadline on injustice. The point being here is, we are sending the message that the only thing America understands is violence.
MARTIN: You said that - you also said that rioters may have burned Minneapolis and Atlanta, but matches were supplied by Derek Chauvin and Donald Trump - Derek Chauvin being the police officer in the videotape pinning Mr. Floyd to the street with his knee. What role do you think that President Trump plays in all this?
BROOKS: Well, when the president says we haven't been tough enough when it comes to dealing with our demonstrators and protesters - when he says, when the looting starts, the shooting starts - he is assuming the role of a presidential provocateur. He's providing the matches, the gasoline for potential arson and looting.
To be clear, this is a moment for measured, thoughtful discourse, not irresponsible rhetoric - not using your Twitter feed to make bad worse. The most and the best people have expected from him is for him to remain quiet so he doesn't make bad worse because whenever he does speak up, he speaks up in a way that literally, literally imperils people's lives.
And so when he talks about marshaling the resources of the U.S. military against protesters and demonstrators, this is dangerous. This is quite, quite dangerous. And so I hold him accountable. We all have to be thoughtful and responsible, including the president.
MARTIN: Cornell William Brooks is an attorney and a minister. He is the former president and CEO of the NAACP. He is now a professor at the Kennedy School at Harvard University.
Mr. Brooks, thank you so much for talking to us once again.
BROOKS: Always a delight to be with you, despite the times.
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