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News Brief: Protests Escalate Across U.S., Trump Executive Order


Thousands of people in the streets, a police precinct on fire and more anger and more pain in Minneapolis over the death of George Floyd.


Yeah. The governor there, Tim Walz, has deployed the National Guard to try and quell a third day and night of protests. But last night, the Minneapolis Police Department's 3rd Precinct was overrun and set on fire. And protests were not limited to Minnesota. Demonstrations took place in Los Angeles, in New York, Denver and several other cities. All are demanding justice after the death of Floyd, a black man who was seen in a video with a white officer's knee on his neck, pleading for breath. He later died.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's Adrian Florido with us, who is in Minneapolis and was at the protests last night. Adrian, thanks for being here. After a really difficult night, you, I understand, were there at the police precinct that was burning. Can you just describe what you saw?

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Yeah, hi, Rachel. It was a remarkable scene - hundreds of people, maybe thousands, you know, angry and defiant but also celebrating. This police precinct over the last several days had sort of become a symbol of the police power that people feel is responsible for George Floyd's death and also a symbol of the broader, you know, tortured relationship between police and black Americans. And here was this building burning. And there was not a single police officer or firefighter on the scene. Officials just let the building burn. The mayor said in a late night press conference that he had pulled personnel from the precinct because he hadn't wanted to risk more violence between police and protesters.

MARTIN: And what were the people who were there in that moment - what were they telling you?

FLORIDO: Well, some people I spoke with were conflicted by what they were seeing. But by and large, people in this crowd were happy to see this police precinct burn. I spoke to a woman named Zamzem Vara (ph). And I want you to listen to what she said.

ZAMZEM VARA: That's what they get. Y'all knew better. Y'all knew the consequences of doing what y'all did. That's what you get, period. I don't feel bad for them. They don't feel bad for George? [Expletive] them.

FLORIDO: But I also spoke to a young man named Chavez Cook (ph). Listen to him.

CHAVEZ COOK: This is how our people react when - you know what I'm saying? - when we've been done wrong for so long. So me - I'm just praying and hoping everybody make it home safe.

FLORIDO: Almost everyone I spoke with at this protest said that these protests have become about more than George Floyd. They're about this long history of police brutality. That said, people do still want the four officers involved in Floyd's death to be charged with murder.

MARTIN: Well, where's that at? I mean, federal and local prosecutors are investigating to determine if the officers should be charged. But what does that investigation entail?

FLORIDO: Yeah. So after local and federal prosecutors announced a press conference yesterday, many people had hoped that they were going to announce arrests and charges. That did not happen. Instead, prosecutors came out and said they needed time to do an exhaustive investigation before deciding on charges. They did not give a time frame for that. And that was frustrating. And it angered a lot of people. And it may have motivated even more of them to come out into the streets last night.

MARTIN: Well, it's so interesting because you say that they just let that precinct burn, right? There's such an emphasis on not exacerbating the current tension between protesters and police. But I have to imagine that they're bracing for more protests.

FLORIDO: Yeah, especially as protests spread across Minneapolis, St. Paul, other cities, you know, other states. Last night, we saw this inflammatory tweet from President Trump in which he suggested that protesters could be shot. On the other hand, here in Minneapolis, the police pulled back. And so officials across the country will have to kind of grapple with how to deal with these protests if they continue to spread and escalate.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Adrian Florido reporting from Minneapolis. Adrian, thank you.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Rachel.

MARTIN: So we're going to turn to another protest now. This one happened in Louisville, Ky. Gunshots injured seven people there last night.

GREENE: Yeah. So demonstrators there were calling for justice for Breonna Taylor, the black woman shot and killed by white police officers during a raid in March. Taylor's family and the community still have not gotten answers about her death.

MARTIN: On the line from Louisville, we've got reporter Amina Elahi from member station WFPL. Amina, thanks for being here. You also were out in in the protests there last night. What did you see?

AMINA ELAHI, BYLINE: Yes. Good morning. We saw several hundred protesters initially congregating in a peaceful manner, moving from, you know, different downtown hotspots, one to another. Over time, the crowd grew. The police arrived. They started putting on riot gear. And tension started to bubble over. As you mentioned, several people were shot. Seven in total confirmed by Louisville police tonight - last night at this point. And the latest update that we got from Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is that five of those people are in good condition, and two of them were sent to surgery. We don't yet know how those two have fared until now. What we do know, according to the police department, is that no officers fired their guns, and all of the shooting victims were civilians themselves.

MARTIN: So these people are all out, chanting the name of Breonna Taylor. Can you remind us about the details of this case?

ELAHI: Yes. Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13, which feels like a long time ago. But her story has just reached national significance and attention in recent weeks. Her family sued the officers in the police department who were involved in the raid on her apartment. She was killed because they were conducting a no-knock raid in the middle of the night after midnight, and as they entered the apartment, Breonna Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, did not appear to be aware that the people coming in were police. Therefore, Kenneth Walker fired a warning shot at them. And they returned fire - more than 20 bullets, eight of which struck Breonna, killing her.

Just this week, a judge dismissed all charges against Kenneth Walker, who has maintained since the beginning that he was shooting in self-defense. And just yesterday, we got tape of the 911 call he made that night in which it's clear that he does not know who has entered the apartment. And he's afraid and confused about why someone has just broken in and shot his girlfriend.

MARTIN: So now these protests over her death - a renewed call for justice. How are officials there responding?

ELAHI: Officials are responding with some policy changes - for example, attempts to limit how no-knock warrants are used, attempts to expand how and when body cameras are used. But they're not doing the thing that protesters are asking for, which is for the officers involved to be fired and charged in Breonna's death.

MARTIN: All right. Reporter Amina Elahi in Louisville, Ky. Thank you so much. We appreciate it.

ELAHI: Thank you.


MARTIN: All right. President Trump goes to war with the social media platform that helped build his brand.

GREENE: Yeah, so the president signed an executive order aimed at limiting some broad legal protections afforded to social media companies by a 1996 law. So that means Twitter but also Facebook and other social media companies. This move comes after Twitter added fact-checking labels to two of the president's tweets that spread false information about mail-in voting. We should say just last night, Twitter flagged a tweet from the president where he appeared to suggest protesters in Minneapolis could be shot as violating its rules against glorifying violence.

MARTIN: NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond is covering this and joins us this morning. Hi, Shannon.


MARTIN: All right. So do we know what President Trump is actually trying to achieve with this executive order that he signed yesterday?

BOND: Right. So there's this decades-old law that says online platforms of any sort are not legally responsible for most of the content that people post on them. So that means you can't sue Twitter or Facebook because you don't like what someone posts. And what Trump is trying to do here is poke holes into that protection. He says in the case of Twitter taking these actions on his tweets, the company is acting more like a publisher by making editorial decisions. And therefore, it doesn't deserve this legal immunity. But when I talked to experts, they say this executive order is probably not going to carry much weight legally.

MARTIN: Because of First Amendment rights, there's a whole slew of laws that this would be breaking, presumably, if this ever went into effect.

BOND: Right, right. First of all, I mean, this just isn't something the president has power over, they say. Congress is the body that changes the law. And also, he would probably be trying to violate the company's First Amendment rights, which is ironic because this all stems from Trump accusing Twitter of stifling his free speech. But at the same time, people I spoke with said this still could be a win for the president. I talked to Kate Klonick, a law professor at St. John's University. And here's what she says.

KATE KLONICK: The president satisfies his base, which believes that there is conservative social media bias out there. And they are happy at the end of the day. And if it doesn't work, it's not Trump's fault. It's basically Congress and the courts' fault.

BOND: You know, and she says that that just might mean that some companies might not want to engage in this fight, you know, whether or not they would be on the legally correct side. And also, maybe they just wouldn't bother to try to fact check. It's not worth riling the president up.

MARTIN: Right. I just have to acknowledge it's an election year. It's an incredibly important election year. And so this is something that the president sees as politically advantageous, this move. How are tech companies reacting?

BOND: Well, there's a divide between the companies that are most in the spotlight here, which are Twitter and Facebook. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg - you know, he doesn't do a lot of interviews. But he went on TV twice yesterday, including on Fox News, the president's favorite channel. And he said Facebook doesn't want to be the arbiter of truth.


MARK ZUCKERBERG: I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn't be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online. I think in general, private companies probably shouldn't be - or especially these platform companies shouldn't be in the position of doing that.

BOND: He also says that he and Facebook are not supporting the president's move. Twitter has condemned the executive order as reactionary and politicized. They've flagged this tweet. I mean, that's an even bigger move than just fact checking. And CEO Jack Dorsey says his company isn't being an arbiter of truth. They're providing users with more transparency. So I think this divide is just going to keep growing heading into the election. These tensions are going to continue to play out.

MARTIN: All right. NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond for us. Shannon, thanks for sharing your reporting and helping us with the context.

BOND: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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