Face The Nation: Finner, Ifill, Gottlieb

Missed the second half of the show? The latest on the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, police reforms and the coronavirus cases in America.

Video Transcript

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JOHN DICKERSON: Welcome back to "Face the Nation." We want to continue our conversation on policing in America with Troy Finner, Houston's chief of police. Good morning.

TROY FINNER: Good morning, John.

JOHN DICKERSON: I want to get your first sense. What was the reaction within the force about the verdict in the Derek Chauvin case.

TROY FINNER: Well, John, let me just say this. It is a message to everyone that no one is above the law. If you raise your hand and you take an oath of office to protect and serve and uphold constitutional rights, and you do what he did, it's a message that no one is above the law. And it's a message to everybody in our nation, including our citizens, that, you know what? Everyone is going to be held accountable.

So I think that the jury spoke. The judge spoke. And we need to move forward. But we also need to have deep, honest communications.

JOHN DICKERSON: Minneapolis-- the precinct commander in Minneapolis, Charles Adams, said this to the "New York Times." He said, "So much is being thrown at us as law enforcement officials. We're unsure how we're going to police in the future." I hear anxiety in that answer. Do you feel or get a sense of anxiety in your force?

TROY FINNER: No, John. I do have concerns with our troops on the front line. But you have to remind them-- what did they sign up for? They signed up to protect and serve. And you also have to remind them that the majority of citizens in Houston and around the nation respect and honor police officers. You have to remind them, look, don't get caught up in the negative noise. Understand what's going on. Understand that people of color, communities of color, are hurting.

We have to be honest with them. We have to give value to their perceptions, to their life experiences, because their perception is their reality. Our perception is our reality. And it's not until you slow down and give value to that, start to communicate and talk about those tough things. And when you do that, you build bridges. And that's what we need to be doing in our nation.

Get away from the negative and understand-- there is a problem and we have to address it. And we're going to address it together as a nation.

JOHN DICKERSON: So what are you doing in your force to try to address those problems, to build those bridges, have those conversations?

TROY FINNER: Well, I've been in my community for 31 years as a police officer. So I have deep rooted, respected relationships. So reaching out to everybody-- and non-traditional people. We got to reach out to former gang members. We got to reach out to hip hop. Everybody needs to be in the fight.

But what do we do in terms of training and making sure that we are de-escalating every chance that we can? Make sure that the officers are slowing down. A lot of the officer-involved shooting scenes, you find out one thing. Sometimes the officers rush in.

Slow them down. Gain cover when you can. But also take a critical look at everything that led up to the shooting incident. Did we slow down? Did we do everything we could? Because-- and you got to put it into the officer's heart and in their minds.

Sanctity of life is the most important thing. And it's important for everybody to go home, not only our police officers, but our general public. So you just got to drill that in every day. And people ask about training. Training is just not something that you do once a year. Training is every day.

It has to be psychological. We talk about touching the hearts and minds of citizens every day. What about our police officers? And then you have to reassure them. Look, we got 800,000 police officers, 18,000 police agencies in our nation. The majority of them do great work.

JOHN DICKERSON: Do you ever worry, chief, that you one of the ways that we get change, one of the ways there is reform, is when there is a lot of public talk and a lot of demonstration. That is necessary in the American story.

On the other hand, what I wonder from you is if all of this talk about reform and the police officers who've done bad things changes the level of trust that is absolutely required for public safety and for what the members of your force have to do?

TROY FINNER: If you allow it to. It's a two-way street in this, you know. And let's be honest. I'm a man that speaks the truth. I'm to the point. There are problems. Too many unarmed African-American males of color, young males, are being shot in our nation. So we have to address that.

But at the same time, let's talk about all the good work. And when I go out to the community-- because I'm from this community. And I can only speak in terms of Houston. People ask me, you know what, Chief? While we don't have more black or why we don't have more Latino officers in this area? You know what, but I never want to discount the Caucasian officers who've been in our communities, the African-American and Latino communities, for 25, 35 years, and retired, never shot anyone, never had a complaint.

So we have to speak the honest truth. But remember what I said-- we also have to give value to a group of people when they're hurting, when they have lost a loved one in a police officer involved shooting that probably wasn't justified. So we have to just come together and really communicate.

JOHN DICKERSON: What do you think, Chief-- and I know you've paid attention to the Ma'Khia Bryant case in Columbus, in Ohio. They released the footage very quickly. Is that something you think is a good idea?

TROY FINNER: You have to release that footage. Mayor Turner is getting ready to announce some of the reform that's coming because of the result of his task force on policing. We're going to have a press conference next week. And I don't want to get ahead of him.

But you're going to see departments around the nation-- it is a thing of transparency. You can't just talk transparency and not be transparent. The public needs to know. And the quicker you put those body-worn camera footage out, the better off everybody is going to be.

JOHN DICKERSON: And finally, just 20 seconds, Chief-- what would you advise Americans watching this footage, because we're going to see more of it, how they should process it, and on any-- not just in the Ma'Khia Bryant case, but any case?

TROY FINNER: Yeah. Look at every case on its own individual merit. Look at it. Don't paint a brush or put all police officers in one pot, just as the same that officers shouldn't put a particular community in one pot, because when we do that, guess who wins? The criminals and the bad police officers. We need to have a laser focus on those officers who are violating people's rights and also the suspects who are out there that's doing it wrong. So let's come together. Let's have those difficult conversations. And let's love one another and our nation.

JOHN DICKERSON: Chief, thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it. And we go now to the president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Sherrilyn Ifill. She joins us from Baltimore. Good morning.

SHERRILYN IFILL: Good morning.

JOHN DICKERSON: Sherrilyn, there is a long history of protest and reform and struggle that has been in American life since the '60s. But something changed with George Floyd's murder. And I wonder with the conviction this week what you think changed and what you think did not change?

SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, I think what has changed since George Floyd was killed last summer is that people who have been in this fight for a long time-- and let's be clear, many have been in this fight for decades-- the issue of police violence against unarmed African-Americans is an issue of the 20th century. We can go all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century and find these incidents and find this unrest as Black communities have resisted this.

It was a signature issue of the unrest in cities across the country during the 1960s. And we emerged from that decade with three core civil rights statutes-- the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. But we emerged with nothing on the issue of policing and racism in policing.

So I think where we are now, John, is that people are fed up. And that's a good thing, because it's time for a fundamental change. If you can recall, we've been in these conversations for the last seven years since Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. And there's been some tinkering around the edges. There's been some movement.

The most powerful movement has been that the conversation has shifted away from talking about tinkering around the edges and modest reforms to radical changes and a radical envisioning of what public safety needs to become in this country.

JOHN DICKERSON: Where should we put our focus when we-- what's an example of what you're talking about? In other words, not tinkering, but real reform?

SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, you look at places like the city of Berkeley that has decided that armed officers will no longer be involved in traffic stops or mental health calls, or the experiment happening in Ithaca, where the entire police department is being set down for a new community solution and public safety corps. It will include some armed law enforcement officers.

But it's focusing on the root causes of crime. It's shifting resources to mental health, to homelessness services, to youth services. And then it's focusing on, what is it that you actually need armed police officers to do to deal with the most violent of circumstances?

But the truth is, it's a re-envisioning of what public safety needs to be. Do we need officers of an armed constabulary to come out to address the possibility that someone is passing a bad $20 check? Do we need armed officers to come out and address a homeless person who won't leave your front stoop?

We have to actually get into thinking about what public safety is supposed to mean and not assuming that we have to continue the current structures but being bold. What we've been doing, John, is something akin to all deliberate speed. You'll remember the admonition of the Supreme Court in the second Brown case, which actually slowed down desegregation.

We've been moving at a snail's pace. And I think even for myself, I've been involved in this work for quite some time. There's just a fundamental shift. And we realize that reform around the edges is not going to do it.

We're looking at Elizabeth City today. We're looking at Spotsylvania County, where there have been additional killings. We need the killings to stop. And that means we're going to have to have fundamental change.

JOHN DICKERSON: I wonder if you think there's also common cause that can be made with a lot of police officers who expressed this sentiment when I talked to them. They'd say, you know, we're in a system where these communities we work in have been failed by education, by the jobs system. There are guns everywhere. And we're being asked to be the-- go in there and sort of face all of these problems on our backs.

And that requires a broader lens, too. Would you agree?

SHERRILYN IFILL: I agree. I'm so glad you said that, John, because this is the place-- when people talk about making common cause with existing police officers, it's not about having a pancake breakfast or playing basketball. It's about some real, honest talk. Police officers need to begin to be honest about the fact that open carry laws and concealed carry laws actually make them nervous. It endangers them.

They don't like people having guns on the street and having concealed carry and walking around with weapons. It makes them nervous. But you don't hear police organizations or law enforcement organizations telling the truth, the things that they will say behind closed doors about how they feel about these gun laws. It is also true that rather than actually solve the problems of our community, problems of education, problems of poverty, problems of homelessness, we have shifted all of the resources to deal with those problems into our criminal justice system.

And we've used the criminal justice system as a holding pen for resolving the core problems that any healthy democracy has to solve. And that's the conversation we need to be having now. We are now in a moment where we should be able to look squarely in the face the issues that have to be addressed that relate to our young people, that relate to jobs, that relate to homelessness, that relate to the mental health crisis happening across the country and that COVID will only exacerbate.

We need to be putting our resources and attention to those problems and not shunting them off to the criminal justice system and asking police officers-- armed officers-- to address issues that we have been too cowardly to address as a democracy.

JOHN DICKERSON: As we're running out of time here, I wanted to ask you about the Justice Department decision this week to open a pattern and practice investigation into Minneapolis. How do you think things will be different under the Bush administration in dealing with these issues?

SHERRILYN IFILL: Well, I think it'll be night and day from Bill Barr, for sure. And I think Judge Garland, Attorney General Garland, that's an opening salvo. Barr was asked last summer whether he would open a pattern and practice investigation into Minneapolis. And he blankly said no. So it was important for Judge Garland to say that today.

I don't think this will be the only one. I think this will be the first of many and one of the things that needs to happen is the re-upping of those investigations into unconstitutional policing and bringing resources to bear to show that we are serious about it. So we were very encouraged.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Sherrilyn Ifill, thanks so much for being with us. And we'll be right back.

We go now to a former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. He sits on the board of Pfizer as well as Illumina and he joins us from Westport, Connecticut. Good morning to you.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Good morning.

JOHN DICKERSON: Dr. Gottlieb, the CDC director this week said that there was a drop in cases that suggested a hopeful trend. Do you share that hope?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Yeah, I think we are seeing a hopeful trend across the country. Cases are clearly declining. The positivity rate's about 3.3% right now. Hospitalizations are falling, as well, which is a good indication. And even in hard-hit areas like Michigan, which had late epidemics, late surges, you're seeing cases start to come down.

I think whereas the past trends when we saw cases start to decline, we were somewhat skeptical, because we knew a lot of those declines were a result of behavioral changes, people pulling back more, taking more precautions. And then as soon as we sort of let our guard down, we saw cases surge again.

Right now, the declines that we're seeing, we can take to the bank. I think we could feel more assured because they're being driven by vaccinations and greater levels of population-wide immunity, not just from vaccination, but also from prior infection. There's been a lot of Americans who've had this infection and have a level of immunity from their prior disease.

JOHN DICKERSON: So when we hear numbers, what you're suggesting is kind of a mindset change in the way we process these numbers when they come in. What other ways should we be thinking in the vaccine world when we still hear numbers of the kind we'd heard for the last year? How should our mindset change in the way we process these numbers?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think we need to think about the overall vulnerability of the population and not just the cases that we're accruing on a daily basis. The vulnerability of the population has been reduced substantially because of vaccination. A lot of older Americans and people who are most vulnerable to COVID who are most likely to be hospitalized or succumb to the disease have now been protected through vaccination and are going to be far less likely to have a bad outcome.

So 10,000 cases right now is a lot different than 10,000 cases a year ago when the most vulnerable Americans had no protection from this disease. We might not get below a point this summer when we have much below 10,000 cases a day if we sustain the current levels of testing. There's going to be outbreaks in summer camps. There's going to be sporadic infections. We'll have one to 200 infections a day in most states, most large states in the country.

But we need to look at those cases differently. They're going to probably represent much less disease, much less death, because most of the most vulnerable Americans will have been protected through vaccination. So we need to look at these things differently. I think we should focus more on hospitalizations, as well. That's probably going to be the best measure of the overall impact of coronavirus on society.

JOHN DICKERSON: So if we should change our mindset a little, should we change the policies and practices that have been put in place by the states and the federal government on how we behave?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, look, I think a lot of the sacrifices we've made-- and Americans have made substantial sacrifices over the last year. The things that we've asked people to do as public health officials were based on mutual consent, that people understood we were doing these things to try to protect the public. But as the situation improved, we were going to pull them back.

And I think oftentimes a mistake we make is that we're quicker to implement these precautions than we are to lift them because we're worried that once we lift, them we won't be able to re-implement them. I think we need to lean more aggressively forward and look at ways to try to relax some of the provisions that don't really make as much sense anymore.

And probably the ones that we should be looking at the hardest are things done outside. I think we should be thinking about lifting mask ordinances outside. I think we should be thinking about lifting limits on gatherings outside and trying to encourage people to go outside now that the weather is warming, take more activities outside in the face of declining risk overall.

Again, I think that these declines we're seeing are really locked in at this point. So I don't think we need to be as worried that as we take our foot off the brake, things are going to surge again. People by and large are re-engaging in a lot of activity. B117 is epidemic across the country. And we're still not seeing big surges. And that's a good indication.

JOHN DICKERSON: Can you give me your thoughts vaccine hesitancy? There are concerns. How concerned are you about those who don't want to get the vaccine, including the second shot some people aren't doing? How concerned are you and what do you think can be done?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Yes. So I think we need to break this down a little bit more. There are people who are clearly vaccine hesitant, people who are skeptical of vaccines, worry about the safety of vaccines. I think some portion of those people we can reach with better education and getting the vaccines into hands of people that they trust, like their local physicians, to try to encourage them to get vaccinated.

But I think that there's also a large group of people for whom getting a vaccine still isn't convenient, people who work all day, take care of families at night. For those individuals, we need to create more 24/7 vaccination sites. We need to guarantee them they're not going to wait more than 10 minutes when they go to get vaccinated.

We need to encourage businesses to give people time off to get vaccinated. And then there's just softer demand. There's marginal customers, like there are for any other product. There's people who say, you know, I'll get vaccinated, but they're not as anxious to get vaccinated as those 65 and 70 year olds who lined up back in January.

And for those individuals, I think we need to market it more aggressively to them. We need to put vaccines in the hands of pharmacies that know how to market health care products to individuals. Maybe pay pharmacies a little more over the next couple of months. Give them an extra $20 bonus to get people vaccinated. Do things to try to create incentives in the market to get more information out to those marginal customers.

We will get more people vaccinated. But the rate of vaccination is going to slow. That's not a bad thing. We just need to recognize it.

JOHN DICKERSON: 20 seconds left. Your view on stopping the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccination?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, look, they-- I think they should have stopped the pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccination based on what we know. This is a safe and effective vaccine. It has a place in public health right now. They paused it to try to see if there was going to be more cases that surfaced. They surfaced some additional cases but not a lot. I think the risk benefit is that this vaccine looks favorable.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Dr. Gottlieb, sorry to cut you off, but we're out of time. Thanks so much, and we'll be back in a moment.

Walter Mondale died last week at age 93. 12 years a senator, vice president of the United States, and the Democratic presidential nominee in 1984. It is an impressive resume. But it was not the resume that made people who never knew him weep in the middle of the day.

Joe Trippi, the veteran Democratic strategist, posted a story on Twitter about working for Mondale in the '84 Democratic primary. During one of his early conversations with the candidate, Trippi mentioned he had been estranged from his father for five years. Trippi's dad, an Italian immigrant, wanted Trippi to go into the family flower business. But he'd gone into politics, instead.

He was good at it. He helped Mondale win Iowa. Months later, Trippi helped him win Pennsylvania, clinching the nomination. Before the victory celebration that night, Mondale called Trippi to his room. As the aide walked in, he saw the candidate talking to an old Italian man, telling him that his son was in an honorable profession, fighting for people who were down and hurting. "He's making a difference," Mondale said. "I count on him, and you need to know that."

The response to the story from Republicans, Democrats-- humans all-- included words like character, mensch, integrity, decency, honorable-- words we'd all like attached to us at the end of our lives. Well, my time has come, Mondale wrote his former staffers just before his death. He said he looked forward to rejoining his wife and late daughter.

"Before I go, I wanted to let you know how much you mean to me," he wrote. "I always knew it would be OK if I arrived someplace and was greeted by one of you." Gratitude and thinking of others-- both at moments of triumph and at the final moments. When your behavior writes your eulogy, you've gone out pretty well.

WALTER MONDALE: But just trying to help others and be decent neighbors and friends.

JOHN DICKERSON: Few of us will ever have a resume like Fritz Mondale. But to leave a mark with your heart, with gratitude and grace-- that life is available to each of us. And we'll be right back.

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That's it for us today. Thanks so much for watching. Come join us next week. We'll be here at "Face the Nation." For "Face the Nation," I'm John Dickerson.