WILL PROTESTS BRING ABOUT CHANGE AND A 2ND WAVE WHEN THE ECONOMY REOPENS?

Why has the George Floyd incident inspired such a widespread response? Will this crisis end by bringing us closer together or tearing us further apart? And as we witness a massive lack of social distancing during these protests, will we see a corresponding recurrence of covid-19 as we prepare to reopen? Former New Jersey Secretary of State and Baptist pastor the Rev. Dr. DeForest Soaries Jr. shares his perspective on the nationwide protests playing out against the backdrop of the pandemic.

Aired on June 3, 2020. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.

FROM THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC TO RIOTING IN THE STREETS, 2020 HAS BEEN ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT YEARS WE'VE EXPERIENCED IN RECENT HISTORY.

THE DEMONSTRATIONS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW HERE IN NEW YORK CITY AND ACROSS THE COUNTRY WERE OF COURSE INSPIRED BY THE KILLING OF GEORGE FLOYD IN POLICE CUSTODY, BUT WHY HAS THIS PARTICULAR INCIDENT INSPIRED SUCH A WIDE-SPREAD RESPONSE?

WILL THIS CRISIS END UP BRINGING US CLOSER TOGETHER OR TEARING US FURTHER APART?

AS WE WITNESS A MASSIVE LACK OF SOCIAL DISTANCING DURING THESE PROTESTS WHAT WE SEE ARE CORRESPONDING OCCURRING OF COVID-19 AS WE PREPARE TO REOPEN?

JOINING US WITH ANSWERS TO THESE AND OTHER QUESTIONS IS FORMER NEW JERSEY SECRETARY OF STATE AND THE SENIOR PASTOR OF SOMERSET'S FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF LINCOLN GARDENS THE REVEREND DR. DeFOREST SOARIES JR.

REV REVEREND, THANK YOU FOR JOINING US, IT'S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE WE'VE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO TALK.

THANK YOU, RAFAEL.

FIRST OF ALL, REVEREND, RIGHT AFTER THE VIDEO EMERGED OF THE MINNEAPOLIS POLICE OFFICER KNEELING ON THE NECK OF GEORGE FLOYD FOR OTHER EIGHT MINUTES WHAT STRUCK ME WATCHING CNN, MS NBC AND FOX WAS HOW THEY ALL AGREED ABOUT THE INCIDENT, HOW UNUSUALLY THEY WERE ALL ON THE SAME PAGE, OUTRAGED AND ASKING -- CALLING FOR JUSTICE.

IT LOOKED LIKE A MOMENT, A CATALYTIC MOMENT FOR SOMETHING TO HAPPEN CONSTRUCT RAL RACISM, BUT IT SOON DEVOLVED INTO VIOLENCE AND LOOTING AND, YOU KNOW THE REST.

WHY?

WELL, THAT'S ON FACT THE CONCEPT OF WHETHER OR NOT IT WAS CATALYTIC.

I THINK EVERYONE SAW THE MOST GRAPHIC DISPLAY OF POLICE ABUSE THAT WE'VE SEEN FOREVER.

YOU KNOW, THE RODNEY KING INCIDENT WAS FILMED, BUT RODNEY KING LIVED.

SO WHAT YOU HAVE HERE WITH THE GEORGE FLOYD INCIDENT IS THE CONVERGENCE OF ALL THINGS BAD.

IN THE FIRST INSTANCE YOU SEE A KNEE ON THE NECK, THEN YOU HEAR THE SAME REFRAIN, I CAN'T BREATHE, THAT YOU HEARD WITH MR.

GARNER.

THEN YOU SEE THREE OTHER POLICE OFFICERS STANDING AROUND DOING NOTHING, WHICH REALLY DEPICTS THIS KIND OF BLUE WALL OF SILENCE THAT POLICE PROTECT POLICE.

WHEN YOU HAVE ALL OF THOSE THINGS CONVERGED ONE WOULD THINK THAT THE OUTRAGE THAT HAS ENSUED MAKES SENSE, HOWEVER, I THINK THERE ARE VERY LAYERS OF CONCERN.

ONE LAYER PERCEIVED THIS AS SIMPLY AN ISOLATED CASE OF POLICE ABUSE, THEN THERE IS A LARGER CONCERN THAT THIS IS BUT A GRAPHIC EXAMPLE OF WHAT MANY OF US EXPERIENCE AND FEAR EVERY DAY OF OUR LIVES AND SO WHILE THE VARIOUS POLITICAL PERSPECTIVES AND OUTLETS SAW IT THE SAME WAY AND WERE OUTRAGED, I THINK THE OUTRAGE OPERATES IN DIFFERENT DEGREES ON DIFFERENT LEVELS AND THEREIN LIES THE COMPLEXITY OF OUR CHALLENGE.

YOU KNOW, YOU WATCH TWITTER, YOU WATCH ONLINE AND YOU SEE AGAIN AND AGAIN MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY, PROTESTERS AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY WHERE THIS THING IS HAPPENING INTERVENE AND, YOU KNOW, TRY TO PREVENT LOOTING, TO PREVENT VIOLENCE FROM HAPPENING AND THEN YOU SEE THEM AND THEN YOU SEE THE RADICALS LIKE ANTIFA AND THEN YOU SEE THE LOOTERS.

DO YOU THINK THAT THE COVERAGE ON TV MOSTLY HAS MADE THAT CLEAR DISTINCTION?

BECAUSE SOMETIMES I DON'T THINK IT DOES.

NO, AND I DON'T THINK IT'S EASY TO DO.

YOU KNOW, IN 1968 MARTIN LUTHER KING WAS IN MEMPHIS ASSASSINATED, HE WAS THERE TO SUPPORT THE GARBAGE WORKERS' STRIKE, BUT THAT WAS THE SECOND TRIP.

THE FIRST TIME DR. KING WENT TO MEMPHIS THERE WAS SO MUCH VIOLENCE AND SO MUCH VIOLATION OF PROPERTY THAT DR. KING HAD TO LEAVE MEMPHIS AND HE INSISTED ON GOING BACK BECAUSE THEY HAD BLAMED A LOT OF THE VIOLENCE ON HIS NON-VIOLENT STRATEGY.

SO I THINK THERE'S ALWAYS BEEN THIS COUNTERPOINT TO NON-VIOLENT PROTESTS WHERE PEOPLE EITHER DON'T BELIEVE NON-VIOLENCE IS AN ADEQUATE STRATEGY, OR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO SIMPLY BRING EMBARRASSMENT AND SHAME TO THE NON-VIOLENT MORAL POSITION, AND I THINK WE HAVE ALL OF THAT INTERTWINED IN MINNEAPOLIS AND IN THE RESPONSE TO GEORGE FLOYD.

AND IT'S VERY DIFFICULT.

IT'S VERY DIFFICULT IF YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND THE DYNAMICS OF PROTESTS, IT'S VERY DIFFICULT IF YOU'VE NEVER BEEN INVOLVED IN PROTESTS, AND IT'S VERY DIFFICULT IF YOUR PERSPECTIVE AND YOUR POSITION ON AN ISSUE BLINDS YOU FROM THE LEGITIMATE PERSPECTIVE OF OTHER PEOPLE.

AND SO WE HAVE THIS -- THIS INTERPLAY, WE HAVE THIS HYBRID, AS IT WERE, AND NOT ONLY HAVE THE MEDIA HAD DIFFICULTY DISCERNING THE DIFFERENCE, BUT SOME OF THE PROTESTERS THEMSELVES HAD DIFFICULTY DISCERNING THE DIFFERENCE AND I THINK IT'S A DISTURBING AND TROUBLING STATUS THAT REQUIRES NOT ONLY INFORMED RATIONAL LEADERSHIP BUT IT REQUIRES AT SOME POINT COALITIONS AMONG PEOPLE WHO MAY DISAGREE ON SOME THINGS BUT HAVE A VESTED INTEREST IN A COMMON SOLUTION.

I SAW A POSTING ON FACEBOOK WHERE SOMEBODY SHOWED A PICTURE OF JOHN F. KENNEDY AND EISENHOWER AND MAKING THE POINT, WELL, LISTEN, IN THE OLD DAYS, YOU KNOW, PEOPLE OF DIFFERENT POLITICAL PERSUASIONS COULD GET TOGETHER AND HAVE A DISCUSSION TO ACHIEVE A COMMON END WITH COMPROMISE, BUT WHAT'S HAPPENING TODAY WHEN THAT ISN'T POSSIBLE AS IT USED TO BE IN THE PAST, AND I SAID HOW OLD ARE THESE PEOPLE?

DO THEY REMEMBER THE ASSASSINATION OF JFK?

OF MALCOLM X?

OF MARTIN LUTHER KING?

OF ROBERT KENNEDY?

DO THEY REMEMBER THE -- IN NEWARK AND DETROIT?

DO THEY REMEMBER THE '68 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION?

VIOLENCE IN POLITICS HAS BEEN OUR HISTORY.

ARE WE MISSING THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT HERE?

I THINK WE HAVE A TENDENCY TO MYTHOLOGIZE HISTORY AND TO GLOSS OVER SOME OF THE MORE FINITE DETAILS.

THE FACT IS THERE IS AN UNDERCURRENT OF HATRED IN THIS COUNTRY THAT HAS BEEN USED BY VARIOUS PEOPLE AS JUSTIFICATIONS TO DO DIFFERENT THINGS TO OTHER PEOPLE AND I THINK WHAT WE LACK TODAY IS A MORAL LEADERSHIP.

I THINK WE'VE SACRIFICED MORALITY TO POLITICAL POSITIONS.

I THINK POLITICIANS HAVE SOUGHT THE LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR IN THAT THEY ARE WILLING TO NOT JUST DISAGREE WITH EACH OTHER, BUT JUST HATE EACH OTHER.

AND UNFORTUNATELY THE PULPITS OF THE COUNTRY, WHICH IS MY TRADE, HAVE BECOME SO PARTISAN THAT IT'S HARD TO REALLY DISCERN OR HEAR THE HIGHER GROUND COMING FROM MORAL POSITIONS AND THAT'S WHY I DECIDED THAT ALTHOUGH THIS IS NOT REALLY WHAT I DO MOSTLY, I FOCUS ON RELIGION AND FINANCIAL LITERACY, BUT TODAY I THINK IT'S VERY DISAPPOINTING AND IT'S A THREAT TO THE DEMOCRACY TO HAVE PEOPLE SIMPLY OUTSCREAM EACH OTHER, OUTCUSS EACH OTHER AND OUTFLANK EACH OTHER IN TERMS OF THE MEAN THINGS THAT THEY CAN SAY TO AND ABOUT EACH OTHER.

WE REALLY NEED A MORAL CONSENSUS THAT SAYS WE ARE BETTER OFF RESOLVING PROBLEMS THAN WE ARE IDENTIFYING PROBLEMS AND TO EVERY PROBLEM THAT HUMANS CREATE THERE IS A SOLUTION THAT HUMANS CAN ACHIEVE.

I WANT TO TO GET TO YOUR SOLUTIONS BUT I JUST WONDER -- I REMEMBER '68 AND I REMEMBER THAT THE VIOLENCE OF '68 WHAT IT LED TO WAS THE RICHARD NIXON ELECTION, CAMPAIGNING ON LAW AND ORDER.

DO YOU THINK THAT WE MAY BE ON THE SAME KIND OF DOORSTEP NOW?

I THINK WE COULD BE.

WHAT'S INTERESTING ABOUT THE 1968 SEASON IS THAT I HEAR PEOPLE CALLING FOR A NEW MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. WHEN, IN FACT, IN 1968, AS YOU RECALL, THERE WERE PEOPLE WHO THOUGHT MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. WAS AN INSURRECTIONIST, HE WAS A COMMUNIST AND HE WAS A THREAT TO AMERICAN SOCIETY.

SO MANY OF THE PEOPLE THAT LOVED DR. KING TODAY HATED DR. KING BACK IN THE DAY AND I THINK WE JUST HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THAT SOMETIMES THERE IS AN INJECTION OF PAIN THAT IS REQUIRED BEFORE WE ACHIEVE A MODICUM OF PROGRESS.

SPEAKING OF DR. KING, YOU KNOW, ERR ROLL LEWIS WROTE AN OP-ED PIECE TODAY FOR THE DAILY NEWS WHERE HE SAYS, YOU KNOW, DR. KING AND OTHER CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS ALWAYS WHEN THEY HAD DEMONSTRATIONS THEY ALWAYS WANTED TO MAKE SURE THAT IT WOULD BE -- THEY WORKED VERY HARD TO MAKE SURE THAT IT WAS PEACEFUL AND THEY ALWAYS WANTED TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY HAD A CONCRETE OBJECTIVE IN MIND.

ERROLL LEWIS FROM NEW YORK ONE SAID THAT'S NOT HAPPENING DURING THESE DEMONSTRATIONS.

THAT'S RIGHT.

I WROTE IN MY PIECE THOSE TWO OBSERVATIONS.

ON THE ONE HAND PROTEST WAS AIMED AT ACCOMPLISHING A CONCRETE OUTCOME, IT WASN'T JUST GATHERING AND BEING ANGRY.

THE OTHER THING IS BACK IN THE '60s WHEN WE PROTESTED, IT WAS A DISCIPLINED, STRATEGIC ACTIVITY.

WE HAD TRAINING.

WE HAD MARSHALS.

WE TAUGHT PEOPLE WHAT TO DO IF A DOG BIT YOU, IF A BATON HIT YOU, THERE WERE NO SUCH INFRASTRUCTURE TO THE PROTESTS TODAY AND WHAT I TOLD THE MEMBERS OF MY CONGREGATION IS THAT STRATEGY IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS.

YOU CAN BE ANGRY AND PASSIONATE AND THE ANGER AND PASSION IS QUITE LEGITIMATE TODAY ANYTIME YOU WATCH A YOUNG MAN DIE AT THE KNEE OF A POLICE OFFICER ON TELEVISION, HOWEVER, ANGER IS NOT SUFFICIENT TO MAKE PROGRESS.

AND WE EITHER HAVE TO ASPIRE FOR GOALS, I SAY IN MY ARTICLE THAT I POSTED THAT, YOU KNOW, THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT REALLY WANTED TO WORK ITSELF OUT OF A JOB.

IT DIDN'T WAIT FOR ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY TO MARCH AND TO FUSS, BUT THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT WAS SUCCESSFUL.

WE NOW HAVE THE RIGHT TO VOTE, WE NOW HAVE THE RIGHT TO PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS, WE NOW HAVE RIGHTS THAT WE DIDN'T HAVE BEFORE BECAUSE OF THE MOVEMENT, BUT THE MOVEMENT HAD TARGETS, IT HAD STRUCTURE, IT HAD LEADERSHIP AND IT HAD THE ABILITY AND THE DESIRE TO NEGOTIATE.

NON-VIOLENT STRATEGY INCLUDES NEGOTIATION.

SO, LISTEN, I WANT TO TURN QUICKLY TO -- BECAUSE WE HAVE A COUPLE MINUTES LEFT -- TO THE PANDEMIC.

YOU KNOW, LESS THAN TWO WEEKS AGO POLITICIANS WERE TELLING US TO STAY AT HOME TO SAVE LIVES, THEY WERE CASTIGATING DEMONSTRATIONS GOING OUT TALKING ABOUT ENDING THE ECONOMIC SHUTDOWN, AND SUDDENLY WE HAVE THESE DEMONSTRATIONS WHERE PEOPLE ARE OUT THERE NOT SOCIAL DISTANCING, NOT BY A LONG SHOT.

BY AND LARGE, NOT COMPLETELY, POLITICIANS ARE QUIET ABOUT THIS.

DO YOU THINK THAT -- HOW DO YOU THINK THIS IS GOING TO AFFECT THE REOPENING UP OF THE ECONOMY?

AND DO YOU THINK THERE'S A DOUBLE STANDARD?

YES, I THINK THIS PROTEST SEASON, WHICH IS APPROPRIATE, IS THROWING GASOLINE ON THE FIRE OF THE COVID-19 SEASON WHICH IS STILL IN PROCESS.

I KNOW AT MY OWN CHURCH WE ARE WONDERING REALLY IF IT MAKES SENSE TO REOPEN ANYTIME SOON BECAUSE THE SOCIAL DISTANCING, THE RESURGENCE THAT WAS ANTICIPATED EVEN BEFORE THE PROTESTS IS A GREAT THREAT TO THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF MY COMMUNITY WHICH HAS ALREADY ACKNOWLEDGED THAT WE HAVE HIGHER PERCENTAGES OF INFECTION, HIGHER PERCENTAGES OF DEATHS AND WE REALLY JUST CAN'T TAKE ANY MORE LACK OF PREPAREDNESS THAN WE HAVE EVER HAD.

SO I THINK, AGAIN, WE HAVE TO RISE ABOVE THE FUMES, AS IT WERE, AND HAVE REASONABLE LEADERSHIP COME TOGETHER TO CRAFT OUT SOLUTIONS.

WE CAN'T SIMPLY DROWN IN THE QUAGMIRE OF PROTESTS.

WE HAVE TO CARVE A PATH TO THE FUTURE BECAUSE OUR COMMUNITIES AND OUR CHILDREN DEPEND ON THAT.

WE HAVE ABOUT 40 SECONDS LEFT.

IN THAT 40 SECONDS, HOW OPTIMISTIC ARE YOU?

A YEAR FROM NOW WHERE ARE WE GOING TO BE?

ARE WE GOING TO BE MORE SEPARATED OR IS THIS GOING TO BRING US TOGETHER?

I'M OPTIMISTIC THAT WE CAN COME TOGETHER.

I STILL DON'T SEE SIGNS OF COMING TOGETHER, BUT MY COMMITMENT IS TO DO MY PART LOCALLY, REGIONALLY, NATIONALLY TO CROSS IDEOLOGICAL LINES, RACIAL LINES AND RELIGIOUS LINES TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN.

DR. SOARIES, THIS IS SOMETHING YOU'VE BEEN DOING ALL YOUR LIFE I KNOW FOR A FACT BECAUSE WE KNOW EACH OTHER WELL.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US TODAY.

THANK YOU, RAFAEL.

WE WILL BE TALKING AGAIN ABOUT THIS AND OTHER ISSUES.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

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