In This Episode
- The first of several funeral services started for the victims killed by a gunman at a school in Uvalde, Texas. And over the weekend, the Justice Department said it would open a probe into the local law enforcement’s response to the mass shooting.
- Two former Minneapolis police officers on trial for aiding and abetting George Floyd’s killing asked a judge to delay and relocate their trial. In addition, two people filed federal civil rights lawsuits against Derek Chauvin and the city of Minneapolis because they say in 2017 then-Officer Chauvin knelt on their necks. We talk about Floyd’s life and legacy with Robert Samuels and Toluse Olurunnipa, co-authors of, “His Name is George Floyd.”
- And in headlines: E.U. leaders voted to ban most Russian oil imports, Shanghai says it plans to finally ease COVID restrictions, and the Supreme Court blocked a Texas law that would ban large social media companies from deleting posts based on the views they express.
- Sign up for Crooked Coffee’s launch on June 21st – http://go.crooked.com/coffee-wad
- “His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice” – https://bit.ly/3GzJzEu
Follow us on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/whataday/
Gideon Resnick: It is Wednesday, June 1st. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Priyanka Aribindi: And I am Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, where the Visit BTS page of the White House yesterday didn’t answer our question of whether the B in BTC stands for Biden.
Gideon Resnick: My guess is perhaps not, but I will not say that confidently until I hear somebody with authority weigh in.
Priyanka Aribindi: BTS, the floor is yours. If you’d like to come on board and clear the air, we’d love to have you.
Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, the Supreme Court blocked a Texas law by Republicans that would have stopped Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies from removing political speech. Plus a conversation about George Floyd’s life and legacy.
Priyanka Aribindi: But first, the latest from Uvalde, Texas, where just over a week ago, a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers. On Monday, the first of several funeral services for the victims started. Hundreds of people arrived at the Hillcrest Memorial Funeral Home right across the street from Rob Elementary School, which was the site of the shooting, for a service honoring the life of ten-year old Amerie Jo Garza. They did the same yesterday for ten-year old Jose Manuel Flores, Jr. Over the holiday weekend, this city was packed with people from both Uvalde and from out of town who came to mourn the lives that were lost.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and President Biden was among those who visited Uvalde. So how have he and the federal government tried to respond to this?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. President Biden spent time with survivors and the families of victims in Uvalde on Sunday. When asked if he felt more motivated about gun control afterwards, he responded that he has been all along, but he did reiterate that there is only so much that he can do as president without congressional action. He said, quote, “I can’t outlaw a weapon. I can’t change the background checks”, and said that this is where Congress needs to act. He promised yesterday that he will be meeting with Congress about this. Within Congress, things are moving at different speeds, though. In the House, the Judiciary Committee will consider eight pieces of gun control legislation packaged together as the Protecting Our Kids Act. It will move to the House floor for a vote next week. But in the Senate, things are moving a bit more slowly. A bipartisan group of lawmakers are negotiating possibilities for a bill that they can all agree on. That group includes Republican Senators John Cornyn of Texas and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and Democratic Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And over the weekend, the Justice Department also said they would be getting involved here, opening a probe into law enforcement’s response to the shooting, which seemed really significant. So can you explain a little bit more about that?
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So over the past week, as more information has kind of come out about this, people have become increasingly furious about local law enforcement and Uvalde’s delayed response when this shooting was happening. They spent nearly an hour outside of the adjoining classrooms where the gunman killed 21 people waiting for tactical equipment and for the janitor to give them a room key to enter–this is just like a regular door, one does not, if you are a law enforcement, need a key, presumably, or they shouldn’t. Videos have also circulated, showing parents outside begging officers to go in and being handcuffed when they tried themselves to go inside and rescue their children. On Sunday, the Justice Department said that it would investigate this response and make their findings public. This is actually pretty rare, so it is a significant development.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, absolutely. And the whole country has been in mourning and outraged really over what took place in Uvalde for a week now. But even as this has had everybody’s attention, gun violence, writ large, has still persisted.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, you’re right. Over Memorial Day weekend, nine people were killed and over 60 people were injured in mass shootings in America. According to the Gun Violence Archive, at least 14 mass shootings in which four or more victims were shot and killed happened in the span of the 72 hours between Saturday and Monday, in places like Charleston, Philadelphia, Chattanooga and more. It may be taking our government a while to respond to this, but our neighbors in Canada have really wasted no time. They already have strict control over firearms. And on Monday, new legislation was introduced to ban the sale, purchase, and transfer of handguns, and to ban possession of military-style assault weapons, requiring owners to turn them over to a federal buyback program–yeah, that is pretty significant. They’re not even letting people buy handguns. And this legislation is expected to pass. Canada experienced a mass shooting that killed 22 people back in 2020, and have been enacting steps to restrict firearms ever since. In case we need a blueprint to do the same, it seems like they really have it down. I hope that we look to them for some inspiration here.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. I mean, in most countries where these events are really anomalous, it’s because they took some sort of like legislative action immediately after it happened.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. What a concept. Imagine if that happened here.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Moving to some other stories that we’ve been following, last week marked the two-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis at the hands of former police officer Derek Chauvin. The arrest, in which Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, was captured on video and led to, by some accounts, possibly the largest set of protests in US history, with even more taking place worldwide. Yet as we speak, legislation aimed at reforming police and practices has stalled out in Minneapolis, other cities nationwide, and on the federal level.
Priyanka Aribindi: And the possible legal ramifications for the officers involved are not settled either. Yesterday morning, former Minneapolis police officers on trial for aiding and abetting Floyd’s Killing, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao, asked a judge to delay and relocate their trial. It was set to begin in Minneapolis in two weeks, but their attorneys argued that the attention on the case, particularly given recent coverage of the two-year anniversary, would make it impossible to get an impartial jury. The judge has not made a decision in response to the motions. And also on Tuesday, two people filed federal civil rights lawsuits against Chauvin and the city. One of them is a man named John Pope, who says in 2017, when he was just 14-years old and three years before Floyd’s murder, then-officer Derek Chauvin used his knee to pin him to the ground. The other suit is by a woman named Zoya Code, who said that Chauvin did the same thing to her in 2017 as well.
Gideon Resnick: So in the midst of all of this, looking back and forwards, I wanted to catch up with two people who have been writing, reporting, and thinking about this moment for years now. On the anniversary of Floyd’s murder, Priyanka, I spoke to Robert Samuels, a national political enterprise reporter for The Washington Post, and Toluse Olorunnipa, a political and investigation reporter at the Post. They are the coauthors of the book, “His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice.” And Samuel started with a story about visiting Minneapolis this time last year.
Robert Samuels: I was at George Floyd Square and gunshots rang out right next to me and I found myself running and ducking in an alleyway. The things that go through your head, you know, I started thinking, well, this could be a neighborhood beef or it could be a white supremacist, or it could just be a regular day in America. After I came to and I walked out at about 15 minutes later, everyone in that community had gone back to normal. The music had begun. People were touring around as if nothing had happened. And one thing that we had seen throughout the course of reporting this book with George Floyd, and with also the people who took up his cause, was this amazing persistence that no matter what happened, they still believed in a better America.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Toluse, I want to talk also about some aspects of the book. It focuses on the history of systemic racism that impacted generations of Floyd’s family. So can you talk a little bit about what you found while writing the book, and what you took away from that aspect of the history specifically?
Toluse Olorunnipa: Yeah, we did research on seven generations of George Floyd’s family, and we found that George Floyd’s family had been part of the American story, a part of the American journey, going back centuries. And it was important for us to look at how his family had tried to achieve the American dream, despite the barriers they faced. Obviously, several of his ancestors were enslaved and were not seen as equal during the time of slavery in this country. His great great grandfather, who was born enslaved, received his freedom after the Civil War, and worked very hard over three decades to amass 500 acres of land, and had pursued the American Dream and had actually accessed parts of that dream for a period of time. And what we found was that that dream was cut short because he had all of that land seized from him in the late 19th century by tax authorities and unscrupulous business people who did not like the fact that a wealthy Black man was living in the South and being prosperous. And the lesson that George Floyd got from that, in addition to not getting the generational wealth that would have been passed down, was that any mistake that you make, any time that you do something that could be seized upon, or even if you do everything right, you can have your life savings taken away from you, and everything can be lost in a moment.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I was reading the recent op-ed that you both wrote, and I think, Robert, you were talking a little bit about wanting to talk about Floyd’s life when you approached friends and family, not just talking about the circumstances of his death. How did that also guide the writing of the book, and what did you find from that approach and from those conversations?
Robert Samuels: One of the things that we wanted people who participated in the book to know was that we were serious about treating this story with the empathy and the care that it deserved. I was not going to ask them what everyone else asked them, which was, Where were you when you found out this video, what did you see? I didn’t want them to go through that trauma. And so what we did is we just asked them to tell stories about what it was like growing up, what he was like when he was going through the criminal justice system, what it was like to be with him in rehab. They’re telling the story of systemic racism in America, the people who had known George Floyd without even knowing what they were doing. That’s how pervasive it is.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and you both thought so critically and explored so deeply, I think, also how media writ large handles these stories of police brutality, handles these stories of systemic racism. What were you seeking to change in the reporting and writing of this book? Has Floyd’s story and the way that it’s been perceived changed anything in terms of how these stories are being more broadly told?
Toluse Olorunnipa: Well, one of the things we wanted to do was not have an exposé in Black pain or just have this be a voyeuristic exercise of, look how horrible this police officer was to this Black person, and look at this isolated incidents of brutality. And it was important for us at The Washington Post to make sure that we were grappling with the issue of systemic racism, and explaining for people who may see that as a abstract idea or something that’s too dense to really understand–we wanted to show it. And I think, you know, the media is starting to figure out ways to try to tell those stories and try to make sure that issues like systemic racism are part of the conversation that, you know, we have shifted and moved in the last two years in terms of what is debatable and what is not debatable. Now, there is also a backlash, and some of these things are being debated anew, but I think there has been a change in the way the media approaches some of these issues, the way they approach victims, the way they don’t allow themselves to be used to denigrate victims, as we’ve seen in the past–because this is not going to be the last case of police brutality, so it’s important for us to be learning from every experience.
Robert Samuels: Both Toluse and I have backgrounds as breaking news reporters. Back when we were doing it, there was this philosophy that if you are named in a police report, what the police report says usually goes. And if it’s not true, there was often no follow-up. It’s not a secret that George Floyd had an arrest record, and people presume that because there’s a public documentation of things, that that is the full story. What we try to do over the course of this, was to be able to talk to people who knew George Floyd during those times, and at every turn, we found a lot more nuance, a lot more complication, a lot more compromise. In fact, six of the officers who had detained George Floyd over the course of his life have been charged with misconduct charges. So there’s a lot there.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. I want to talk about actual reform for a moment. So the White House unveiled this executive order that’s meant to revise use-of-force policies for federal law enforcement, among other things. I’m curious if you’ve had the opportunity to hear from people with whom you’ve spoken that have been looking for reform for years and years and years now, as to what their response is to this?
Toluse Olorunnipa: My sense is that this is not the outcome that people who marched in the streets, the people who took up Floyd’s cause, the people who are close to him, wanted. They wanted federal civil rights legislation that could last beyond the presidency, that would cement itself in the American society as part of what we all believe are inalienable rights. They wanted a civil rights bill that would show that police officers could not use the kind of force that they use against George Floyd, that they would have to be accountable, that they wouldn’t have this level of immunity that they often have. That is not represented in the executive order that President Biden is signing, but people are at least happy that there is movement continuing to happen two years later. It’s less than what was marched for and advocated for, but it’s something.
Gideon Resnick: Right. I want to close for now by talking a little bit about some of the conversations you have had with Reverend Jesse Jackson. There was one that was specifically mentioned at the end of that piece that you both wrote recently. I’m wondering if you could talk about that a little bit more for our audience, and how you feel looking back on that particular conversation now.
Toluse Olorunnipa: One of the things he said was that sitting in a conversation with Robert and I, talking about systemic racism, talking about what happened to George Floyd, was a sign that things have changed, that there is progress. In the past, it would be impossible for him to envision talking to two Black reporters for The Washington Post who were writing a book about another Black man and writing it with empathy and with care and without racist tropes, but with the fullness of a human spirit and the human experience. And, you know, it’s very easy to get down and to get dejected by the lack of progress or the polarization around racial issues, but, you know, talking to Reverend Jackson made it very clear that there is a lot to be proud of, there’s a lot to be thankful for. There’s a lot to look at with the Black experience that shows the perseverance and persistence and the unending hope that things will get better.
Gideon Resnick: And Priyanka, that was my conversation with Toluse Olorunnipa and Robert Samuels, the coauthors of the new book, “His Name is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice.” We’re going to have more on all this soon and a link to where you can find the book in our show notes, but that is the latest for now. Let’s get to some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: European Union leaders voted on Monday to ban most Russian oil imports. This is the sixth E.U. package of sanctions, and the toughest one yet against Russia since it launched a war on Ukraine three months ago. EU Commissioner President Ursula von der Leyen said this in a press conference after the agreement was reached:
[clip of EU Pres. Ursula von der Leyen] This is very important. Thanks to this, council should now be able to finalize a ban on almost 90% of all Russian oil imports by the end of the year.
Gideon Resnick: But there is one big catch. This ban only applies to oil delivered by tankers, and not by pipeline. What that means is even though we just heard von der Leyen say it will apply to 90% of Russian oil imports, in reality it will actually only be around two-thirds. This is a major concession to Hungary, an EU country that is particularly reliant on Russian crude oil delivered via pipelines. Plus, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban is sympathetic to Russia and a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The EU has been negotiating the sanction package for a month now, and Orban is largely responsible for its delay.
Priyanka Aribindi: The demand for sour dough starters is about to fall off dramatically in China because after two months of COVID lockdown, Shanghai says it plans to finally ease restrictions. Government officials made this announcement after four straight days with no COVID deaths and because new cases are at their lowest number since early March. Starting today, schools will partially reopen on a voluntary basis for students. Shopping malls, grocery stores, drugstores, and more will gradually reopen as well. And Shanghai transit systems, including bus, subway services, and connections to the rest of China, will also be restored. Most people will now be allowed to move freely through the city if they have a negative PCR test within 72 hours. But it is estimated that over 600,000 residents must still quarantine at home because infections are still spreading in their immediate area. Shanghai is China’s largest city and the Chinese government’s zero-COVID strategy has taken a heavy toll on communities, and has led to public resentment.
Gideon Resnick: The invocation of the phrase “sour dough starter” took me back to a time I don’t feel like revisiting.
Priyanka Aribindi: Never did it. You know, I watched a lot of bad TV. I think I got really into using a slow cooker.
Gideon Resnick: There you go.
Priyanka Aribindi: I never did sour dough.
Gideon Resnick: The conservative campaign to let every Internet user choose their own version of reality hit a snag yesterday when the Supreme Court blocked a Texas law that would ban large social media companies like Facebook and Twitter from deleting posts based on the views they express. The law is called HB 20, and it was drafted after most of the Internet banished former President Trump following the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Texas lawmakers did not like to see their favorite influencer get de-platformed, and they perceived an anti-conservative bias among big Silicon Valley companies that probably has nothing to do with the fact that the people most likely to tweet that “vaccines are Hitler” tend to be conservative.
Priyanka Aribindi: Weird coincidence.
Gideon Resnick: Two industry groups representing tech companies challenged the law, alleging that it would require platforms to spread objectionable and false viewpoints, including ISIS propaganda and Holocaust denial–posts most people would agree are not elevating the discourse. The Supreme Court’s vote was five-four, thanks to a thoroughly bizarre coalition that formed in favor of letting the law stand. That coalition was composed of conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, plus liberal Justice Elena Kagan. This might not be the last time the Supreme Court examines the constitutionality of this law. A federal court is currently examining whether HB 20 violates the First Amendment, and it could rise to the level of the Supreme Court again in the future.
Priyanka Aribindi: I wish it was the last time, though. I feel like this discussion has been settled and I, for one, am not interested in continuing it. So I think that’s why it should be over. Tired of relitigating the 2020 election, Trump and his allies threw it back to 2016, and it did not go well when a special prosecutor appointed during Trump’s presidency to review the long-forgotten Russia probe failed to score a conviction yesterday for the first person he brought to trial. The special prosecutor’s name is John Durham. His team accused lawyer Michael Sussman of lying to the FBI in attempts to damage Trump’s run for president. Durham’s suit alleges that Sussman went to the FBI in 2016 with claims that the Trump Organization had been secretly communicating with a Russia-based bank, and didn’t disclose that he was acting on behalf of his client, the Hillary Clinton campaign. Sussman’s lawyers said the case against their client was based on a, quote, “political conspiracy theory” and that no attempt was made to hide Sussman’s political ties when he contacted the FBI. Like many ideas Trump holds close to his heart, the prosecution’s case was apparently pretty easy to poke some holes into. It took less than a full day of deliberations for the jury to conclude that Sussman was innocent. Asked about the case, one juror told The Washington Post, quote, “Personally, I don’t think it should have been prosecuted.”
Gideon Resnick: Tough. Also, if you’re listening to this and you have been waiting for us to mention John Durham and Michael Sussman, congratulations for waiting so long and congratulations for knowing who those people are before we got to the [unclear].
Priyanka Aribindi: You might be entitled to financial compensation. I am so sorry.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. We will probably not mention Michael Sussman’s name again, so if you want to file a claim, your moment is right now. And those are the headlines. We’ll be back after some ads with a discussion of what happens when flying pastries and Renaissance art meet.
Priyanka Aribindi: It’s a delight.
Gideon Resnick: It is Wednesday WAD squad. And for today’s temp check, we are discussing the greatest mystery to unfold inside the Louvre Museum in Paris since Professor Robert Langdon solved The Da Vinci Code: the man disguised as an old woman in a wheelchair who threw cake at the Mona Lisa in a widely-covered protest on Sunday. The famous painting is, of course, protected by bulletproof glass, so it is safe. Do not fear. Visitors to the museum captured the man being carted away by security following the cake offensive.
[voice speaking in French]
Gideon Resnick: Okay. If your French is rusty, he is saying, quote, “Think of the earth. There are people who are destroying the earth. Think about it. Artists tell you. Think of the earth.” So it seems like the intent was to draw attention to climate change, but the question of whether caking Mrs. Mona is a good way to do that is worth pondering. And that’s what we’re going to do. So Priyanka, what is your take on this French man’s act of resistance over the weekend.
Priyanka Aribindi: I have notes. You know, protesting climate change: great. Climate change is bad. I’m all for it. I don’t get exactly what Mona Lisa or cake have to do with this. If I were to do this, I think I would pick like dirt or mud or like something from the earth maybe, and I would take maybe a painting of like a beautiful landscape or something that also has to do with the earth. You can go famous here, but like Mona Lisa is like a painting of a person, and cake is like something I have on my birthday. I don’t really get how any of this goes together. Those are my notes, though, to make this a little more effective. Gideon, what are you making of all this, though?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I could see, like, what you’re saying. You know, you’d take some soil and throw it at a Winslow Homer painting of the ocean or something like that.
Priyanka Aribindi: Maybe I’m too literal, though. I don’t know.
Gideon Resnick: Well, I do think, to the credit of some of The View co-host whose opinions we listen to before forming our own–
Priyanka Aribindi: They help.
Gideon Resnick: –I think that any sort of attention grabby thing that afterwards you say is for something that is good, is a net good, and fine, right? Like, I agree, the intent doesn’t quite make sense, but now people are talking about effective forms of protest.
Priyanka Aribindi: Gideon is straight-up quoting the view right now.
Gideon Resnick: Perhaps I am. Perhaps I am. Perhaps I do it more often than I’d care to admit is there are good viewpoints expressed. But I think that there is the literal interpretation of it, and there is the other like, Hey, this is just sort of like in the ether now and maybe that, you know, gets you to protests in your own, maybe slightly more direct way. I don’t know. Just like that, we have checked our temps. They are warm, like the warming planet.
Priyanka Aribindi: Boiling over.
Gideon Resnick: Boiling over, and like a cake: coming out of the oven, kind of.
Priyanka Aribindi: True.
Gideon Resnick: Sure.
Priyanka Aribindi: One more thing before we go. We have a big news: on June 21st, Crooked is launching Crooked Coffee! It is delicious, premium, ethically-sourced coffee in recyclable packaging. It is beautiful and a portion of the proceeds are being donated to Register Her to help register and activate women voters across the country. This is what we’ve been teasing in this show, and we can finally share. Very excited.
Gideon Resnick: To be clear, I am still selling batteries myself, but we haven’t even gotten to the most exciting part: the name of the coffee, “What A Morning.” We are your coffee muses, ladies and gentlemen.
Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, exactly. So of course we had to tell, you know, the WAD squad first. You guys can sign up to get early access, at crooked dot com slash coffee. We will put the link in our show notes so you can sip What A Morning while you listen to this show.
Gideon Resnick: Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart. Not going to say the next line. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, throw cake for the cause, and tell your friends to listen.
Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just the tales of Robert Langdon’s many adventures like me– I do love those books–What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I am Priyanka Aribindi.
Gideon Resnick: I am Gideon Resnick.
[together] And let’s work towards having one reality!
Priyanka Aribindi: I’ve wanted that for quite some time.
Gideon Resnick: Could solve some problems.
Priyanka Aribindi: I’m pretty sure I cited this exact concern in my job interview for Crooked Media like five years ago. I was like, yeah, this seems like a major fucking problem. It seems like it’d be kind of cool to work at a company that would maybe help. Spoiler alert: nothing has been fixed. It’s only gotten worse.
Gideon Resnick: It sucks. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzy Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.
Priyanka Aribindi: Hey, WAD squad, let’s face it, even the best workplaces have had a rough couple of years. There’s never been a better time to rethink how we work, lead, and live. On Work Life, a podcast from TED, organizational psychologist Adam Grant explores the science of making work not suck. This season, he’ll talk about what we can learn from the great resignation and how to retain employees. You’ll learn how to pitch your ideas and how to wrestle with perfectionism without feeling like a failure. You’ll also hear from masters of their craft, like Dolly Parton and Alex Honnold, and more. Find Work Life with Adam Grant wherever you listen to parts.