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News Brief: Minn. Protests, Texas COVID Testing Sites, Trump Tweet

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Demonstrators brought traffic to a halt in south Minneapolis after a black man was killed in police custody on Monday night.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Four police officers have now been fired. And the FBI says it is investigating the incident. George Floyd was outside a small grocery store after police responded to a report of an alleged forgery in progress. Within minutes, Floyd was pinned to the ground, lost consciousness and was then carried away on a stretcher.

MARTIN: Tim Nelson of Minnesota Public Radio has been following this story. And we should warn our listeners that some of the audio that we're going to play in our conversation is very disturbing. Tim, thanks for being here. Can you just lay out the circumstances? What led to the death of George Floyd as we know now?

TIM NELSON, BYLINE: Well, police were initially called to a report from a neighborhood grocery store that someone was trying to pay with a counterfeit bill. This was about 8 o'clock Monday night. Officers arrived. They found George Floyd, 46-year-old guy from St. Louis, parked in an SUV across the street. Video shows them pulling him out of a vehicle and then walking him over to a sidewalk. A few minutes later, he was on the ground, facedown beside a police vehicle in handcuffs.

Now, at that point, video shows police on top of him, including a white officer with a knee on Floyd's neck. And part of this, as you said, was videotaped. And it's hard to listen to. But you can hear in the audio that Floyd is pleading for someone to help him and gasping for air.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GEORGE FLOYD: I can't breathe, officer.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER: Shut up.

FLOYD: They're going to kill me. They're going to kill me, man.

NELSON: And tragically, those were his last words. The video shows Floyd losing consciousness, then limp and unresponsive when paramedics took him away.

MARTIN: It's so hard to hear that. So many of us saw that video circulating online. It's just horrific. Who was recording that video? I mean, it seemed like it was just a bystander, is that right?

NELSON: That's right. It was streamed on Facebook by a woman by the name of Darnella Frazier. She was just standing on the other side of the squad from Floyd. There are also other videos, including a passerby that stopped on the other side of the street. And you see that, it shows what appears to be two officers on Floyd's back. But this struggle outside the squad car drew a sizable crowd. I even talked to one eyewitness who heard Floyd crying out for help as he drove by and stopped to see what was going on.

MARTIN: So four police officers have been fired as a result of this. Is that it in terms of response?

NELSON: Well, that's part of it. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo fired four officers. Mayor Jacob Frey agreed. The department still hasn't offered any detail about the role each officer played in this incident, hasn't formally identified them yet. But reaction in the community has been swift. Civil rights leaders gathered at City Hall yesterday to express their anger and their outrage. Steve Belton is president of the Minneapolis Urban League. And it's a small, nonprofit agency that serves the city's black community. Here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVEN BELTON: What we witnessed today was state-sponsored murder, a state-sponsored execution. And what we await to see is whether it's going to become state-sanctioned execution. It'll be sanctioned if nothing is done.

NELSON: Now, state authorities are investigating. And criminal charges may follow.

MARTIN: So is that what's next? Are we going to be looking out for those charges?

NELSON: Well, as you said, the FBI has joined the investigation. Floyd's family has also retained Ben Crump, well-known civil rights attorney, known for representing Michael Brown and Ahmaud Arbery, the man shot and killed in February. There was a major demonstration last night with protesters starting in facemasks and ended with a crowd smashing windows and damaging cars at a police station near the scene of Floyd's death.

MARTIN: All right. Tim Nelson of Minnesota Public Radio. Tim, thank you. We appreciate it.

NELSON: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. Ahead of the 2020 election, social media companies are trying to stop the spread of misinformation on their platforms. But what do you do when that misinformation is coming from the president?

GREENE: Yeah. So for weeks, President Trump has been claiming, without evidence, that mail-in voting is full of fraud, and the Democrats are trying to rig the election. Again, this is a claim without evidence. Yesterday, for the first time, Twitter took action against the president by adding links to fact checks on two of those tweets.

MARTIN: NPR's Bobby Allyn has been looking into this and joins us now. Hi, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey.

MARTIN: OK. So Bobby, David just outlined the gist of these tweets that prompted this response. What more can you tell us?

ALLYN: Yeah. So President Trump promoted a conspiracy theory that voting by mail is riddled with fraud. Of course, this is incorrect. There is absolutely no evidence to back up this statement. And so last night, Twitter added a label with a blue exclamation point to get the attention of Trump's millions and millions of followers. And the label - you could see it kind of in the corner of the tweet - instructed readers to get the facts about mail-in voting and offered a link. And you could click on the link. And it sent you to, you know, reliable news coverage on the issue.

MARTIN: All right. But Trump has tweeted a great many questionable claims over time, so why these tweets? Why this response now?

ALLYN: Yeah. So this action, you know, really illustrates a major shift at Twitter that has been made since the coronavirus. So for a long time, Twitter's position on world leaders, like President Trump, was to take sort of a hands-off approach to their tweets, saying, no matter what they said, we're not going to bother it. We're just going to let all the messages flow on Twitter. But earlier this month, Twitter unveiled new warning messages. And this was in response to some elected officials who were, you know, promoting unproven cures to the coronavirus and encouraging people to ignore social distancing recommendations.

And so Twitter said the warnings would apply to pandemic tweets like those kinds and other issues, including voting. The presidents of Brazil and Venezuela had tweets taken down. And everyone wondered, OK, is Twitter going to take action against Trump's tweets? And now we know the answer is, yes. So I talked to David Kaye. He's a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. And he specializes in freedom of expression issues.

DAVID KAYE: If they don't respond to either disinformation or extremism or whatever it might be, they know that they're going to face some very serious regulation that's going to influence their ability to - really, to maintain their platforms the way that they want.

MARTIN: This is happening at this time when there's also this other big, huge story - right? - the false tweets President Trump has been sending out about MSNBC host Joe Scarborough. What about those tweets? Are they going to be labeled?

ALLYN: Yeah. That really is the elephant in the room here. You know, Scarborough, who is a former GOP congressman, he's often fought with Trump. Well, Trump falsely linked Scarborough to the 2001 death of a woman who once worked for him. There's no evidence to suggest that there's any connection there. And there was growing pressure for Twitter to do something about the Scarborough tweet. So many said, perhaps this move on the mail-in voting was a way to relieve some of the pressure Twitter was receiving for not doing anything, for just doing completely nothing on the Scarborough post.

MARTIN: Has the president responded to the Twitter decision?

ALLYN: He did. Fittingly enough, on Twitter, he accused Twitter of stifling free speech and even said Twitter was interfering in the 2020 presidential election.

MARTIN: All right. We appreciate it. NPR's Bobby Allyn for us this morning.

ALLYN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. Could where you live determine whether you could get a coronavirus test or not?

GREENE: Well, it turns out that very well might be the case. NPR and member station KERA in Dallas looked into data on testing centers in the state of Texas. And what they found was that in many communities of color - communities that have been especially hard hit by the coronavirus - they don't have as much access to testing as white communities.

MARTIN: Bret Jaspers from member station KERA in Dallas joins us this morning. Hi, Bret.

BRET JASPERS, BYLINE: Hi.

MARTIN: What kind of disparity are we talking about at these testing sites, how big?

JASPERS: Well, I'm in Dallas. So let's just take that city as an example. In north Dallas, the whiter part of town, there are about double the number of testing sites that there are in south Dallas, which has a higher percentage of people of color. And Dallas isn't the only big city in Texas where we saw this. A similar trend is also in Fort Worth, Austin and El Paso.

And so these are sites that are open to the public, like a drive-through testing site or an urgent care clinic. We're not talking about some doctors' offices or a hospital where you have to already be a patient. We also excluded from this analysis mobile testing services that go directly to people's homes.

MARTIN: So what's the consequence of this kind of disparity?

JASPERS: Well, if testing is harder to get in communities of color, then the spread of coronavirus there might not be as readily detected. That could mean people of color don't get the health care that they need to fight this. Researchers at the UT Health School of Public Health had identified large chunks of south Dallas as a place with higher rates of chronic health conditions. That puts those folks at greater risk of having serious cases of COVID-19. This is Dr. Stephen Linder.

STEPHEN LINDER: If we're looking to protect our most vulnerable in the population, then we need to concentrate some testing resources in the areas where they're more likely to live.

MARTIN: So what are state officials saying about this disparity? I mean, is it something they acknowledge? Are they trying to do anything about it?

JASPERS: Well, officials at the state level didn't make anybody available to talk about the reporting. But I did talk to Dr. Philip Huang, who's the director of the Dallas County Health Department. And he pointed out that a lot of the sites in north Dallas are at private health care providers. So this disparity where COVID-19 testing is kind of mirrors a broader reality of the health care system at large.

Texas also has the largest uninsured rate in the country, in large part because state leaders haven't expanded Medicaid. Huang said that when the county does have input over where a testing site goes that they do try to put them in underserved communities.

MARTIN: All right. We so appreciate you digging into this. This is Bret Jaspers of member station KERA in Dallas. You can read more about that investigation when you go to npr.org. Bret, thanks for sharing your reporting on this. We really appreciate it.

JASPERS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And before we go, we wanted to note another story that we're watching. Later today, Elon Musk's SpaceX will send two NASA astronauts into space and to the International Space Station. The U.S. hasn't launched its own astronauts into space since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. Since then, the U.S. has been hitching rides on Russia's Soyuz spacecraft at an $86 million-per-seat price tag. If today's launch is successful, many in the space industry believe it will mark a historic start of a revolution in space travel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.