Transcript: Wesley Lowery on "Face the Nation," May 31, 2020

60 Minutes' Wesley Lowery on racial tensions in America
60 Minutes' Wesley Lowery on racial tensions ... 08:19

The following is a transcript of an interview with "60 in 6" correspondent Wesley Lowery, that aired Sunday, May 31, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We want to go now to Wesley Lowery. CBS News correspondent for 60 in 6, which is a new digital program featuring 60 Minutes style storytelling in just six minute episodes on the streaming service, Quibi. He was formerly at The Washington Post as the lead reporter covering police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement. And as we mentioned earlier, he won the Pulitzer for his work. So Wes, you are formidable and we are glad to have you.

WESLEY LOWERY: Happy- you know, not happy to be here. I honestly--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah. 

LOWERY: None of us would like to be talking about this again obviously.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I think the country would agree with you right now. But I- I know you've been on the phone and speaking with some of the activists who are in the streets and cities around the country. What are they telling you?

LOWERY: You know, we're in this moment right now where all of us are asking of every- of any political stripe and even those of us who are not, you know, explicitly partisan or political in any way are asking how do we stop what's happening in the streets? No one wants to live in a world where the streets are burning and no one wants to live in a world where people are killed in the streets, right? And what the activists are saying is you all haven't been listening to us. Right. For- you, listen to the protest chants, all right. One that's very popular during these demonstrations, not just the George Floyd ones, but historically indict, convict, send the killer cops to jail. The whole system is guilty as hell. Right. And what the activists are saying is we have been saying the system is foundationally and fundamentally broken. And you've been giving us speeches and a- and a body camera. You've been charging one individual officer who then, by the way, very- might beat the charges or even firing an individual officer. And I've done reporting to suggest that many officers who get fired get their jobs back. There's actually a belief that many of these officers in Minneapolis may get their jobs back who are fired. Right. So, again, what the activists are saying is that you all have not been listening to us, that- that this was in so many ways inevitable. Right. Again, the protest chant. Right. If we don't get no justice, there will be no peace.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But is there's something I wonder that's very specific to this moment, because as you've said, this is not the first case. This is one of innumerable instances of police brutality that our country has talked about in the past few decades. What exploded it now? Is there something about where we've been as a country with the economic crisis, with the pandemic? Why?

LOWERY: I think all of those things are obvious extremely short term factors. Certainly isn't helpful that a bunch of people- and by the way, black Americans, those who are storming the streets, although certainly racially diverse groups, black Americans who started this, who were more likely to get sick and die because of COVID. Right. So the demographic group most likely to have spent two months without human contact in fear over their lives. Right. That certainly factors in. The demographic group, the data tells us, that was among the most likely to lose their businesses and their jobs because of the economic downturn. But we also can't attribute it just to the short term. Let's think about the medium term, the era we are in. That every time we open our phones or computers, we being all of us, we watch another video like this. Right. It's- it's- and in four years, it's been these pleas from elected officials, from policing officials, from the media, from everyone, well, if you guys just calm down, I promise we'll- we'll fix it. We promise we'll fix it. We'll have a meeting. We'll have a town hall. Someone will give a speech. And at some point, you know, the examples I've heard, people have said to me, and so now I've started saying it to talk about where the activists are, Lucy can only pull the football so many times before Charlie Brown punches her in the face.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Quite the analogy. One of the things I want to ask you about, because you are in touch with those on the ground, is what the Justice Department, what the White House has said, which is that the protests, which you were laying out as peaceful and well intentioned, have been infiltrated by far left wing, specifically radical groups. Antifa was mentioned by the national security adviser. What truth is there to this?

LOWERY: You know, every demonstration I've ever covered, anytime I've ever been in the streets and interviewed people. And that's not untrue of these but it's not exclusive to these. Everyone, Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, Milwaukee, the list goes forever. In all of those cases, there's a mixture of people on the streets, right? There are- there are people who show up because they want to march. They want to yell. Right? But those people never have control of everyone who shows up. There is always a mixture of folks. And- and again not just white anarchist groups or white Antifa. Black people who throw, you know, a brick at a cop or, you know, "Do The Right Thing" a trashcan through a pizza shop window. Right? That the reality is, if you were to look at the mixture of people in the streets in American cities, the answer is probably all of the above. I think sometimes we get too focused on this, well, is it one specific group that's trying to- again, the reporting will start to look at what exactly is there. But I've never- I've never once been on the streets doing one of these protests where the reporting has bared out that it was one specific group pushing, you know, in some deliberate way pushing all this. The reality is it's always a confluence of people, a confluence of anger and frustration. And it can be too easy for us to think it's just some outside agitator who, when you- when you read the after-action reports and the contemporaneous coverage of basically every riot that's ever happened in the last hundred years,-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. 

LOWERY: --the local elected officials always say it's the outside agitators. It's not the people from here. We've seen in the last 48 hours, the officials in Minnesota claim that, and the independent reporting proved that the vast majority of people arrested were local.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the- the attorney general said this morning, for the state that is,--

LOWERY: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --was saying that there is a lot of suspicious behavior, cars without license plates,--

LOWERY: Certainly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --things that appear to be designed to cover up the identity of the individuals involved.

LOWERY: Certainly. Right. But is that license plate from- is that car without a license plate from a state over or from- from a city over? Right? You know like the reality, the suggestion that people locally may not be upset, may not be frustrated enough to take such action, I guess it sometimes I think misses it. It's un- it's unquestionable, right, that there are- that in all these protests, and again, it's from reporting, from being there on the ground, from talking to folks, it's unquestionable that there are people who show up explicitly to create chaos.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

LOWERY: No question.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But so some of the elected officials we've been talking to at the local level say, you know, protests are good when they're organized. That's what the Atlanta mayor said, but basically, go express yourself at the ballot box. She told people to go home when she saw the violence on Friday. And then we just spoke to- to the mayor of St. Paul who was saying there is a real conversation that needs to be had, but that's about reforming a system.

LOWERY: Correct.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So what exactly needs to be reformed? And when do the protests stop?

LOWERY: What the activists would say is literally everything. Right, what- what the activists would say is that American policing, as we currently understand it, as we've currently conceptualized it, is a legacy of slavery. It was created to control and- and in many ways abuse black Americans to keep them subservient to a white majority. What the activists would argue is that a system that was constructed that way will never be able to provide equitable positions. And so, again -- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So being able to fire cops more easily, as the mayor was talking about, things like that, you say even if that's done, not enough. 

LOWERY: I- it's very hard to see how that- how piecemeal reforms like that would- if there is a structural and systemic issue, can you solve a structural and systemic issue with Band-Aids? And the, again, the data all suggests there is a structural, systemic issue. And the types of reforms we've talked about are individual reforms, firing an individual officer who does an individually bad thing. Right? If there's actually a structural problem that doesn't fix it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Wesley Lowery, thank you very much--

LOWERY: Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --for your reporting and your analysis.