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Alicia Smith, community organizer: It broke my heart. It was devastating. There are no words in the English language that would convey the despair that I felt watching that man’s life leave his body and him scream out for his mother.

Protestor: I’m out here to get justice for my city. My city has been going through a lot of pain. This is not the first, second or third time. You see all this, all the damage? It’s what we have to do to get our voice heard.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: All over the country, people are filling the streets to protest police brutality and the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis while a police officer kneeled on his neck. Disturbing video of this was seen all over the world.

George Floyd: Please. Please. I can’t breathe. … Please, man.

Gupta: We are all seeing so much pain and anger and outrage.

In this episode, I spoke with the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, about how she’s dealing with the crisis as a leader, as a mother of four children. All of it unfolding against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

Most of America caught sight of her recently. She gave an incredibly powerful press conference this past Friday.

Keisha Lance Bottoms, mayor of Atlanta: We are better than this. We’re better than this as a city. We are better than this as a country. Go home. Go home.

Gupta: Born and raised in Atlanta, Mayor Bottoms was a lawyer and judge, and has been in office since 2018. She’s only the second woman ever to hold the job.

Bottoms: When I heard there were rumors about violent protests in Atlanta, I did what a mother would do, I called my son and I said, “Where are you?” I said, “I cannot protect you, and black boys shouldn’t be out today.”

Gupta: I spoke to her about this important moment in history as black and brown America disproportionately face two deadly threats: police brutality and a global pandemic.

I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent. And this is “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction.”

Thank you again, Mayor Bottoms, I’ve very much been looking forward to this. Let me just ask, how are you? How are you doing over the last few days?

Bottoms: You know, I’m doing OK. I think I’m doing as well as all of America is doing right now. It’s a very stressful and exhausting time for all of us. But I’m doing OK. Thank you for asking.

Gupta: Have you been worried for your own safety or for the safety of the people that you love at all over the last few days?

Bottoms: You know, Sanjay, that’s a good question. One I think who I am carrying heaviest on my heart right now is my 18-year-old, because he’s 18 and he very much wants to be in the middle of everything that’s happening, and I know that there is so much that can go wrong and so much that we’ve been watching go wrong across America.

Gupta: I want to ask you a couple of questions about protests in the midst of a pandemic. I mean, we are truly going through something that is unchartered here. We don’t know the impact that these protests will have on the pandemic itself, the spread of the virus.

There were some powerful moments of solidarity, though, during the protests — people came together. They sang. They hugged. They were walking hand in hand. Those are the images a lot of people will see.

At a time when so many people are hurting like this — are those moments worth suspending the physical distancing mandates?

Bottoms: You know, this is just this convergence of where we are globally. Like, I don’t think we, any of us will see again in our lifetime. I’m getting a Covid-19 test today because everything that we’ve talked about over the past two months, just became secondary or has become secondary. So I just, I, I just hope that people will get tested and will remember that we are really, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic.

You know our communities are sick and they’re tired and they’re dying. They’re dying from Covid-19, they’re dying from poverty, they’re dying from police brutality. We’re exploding.

You know, these forces seen and unseen, Covid-19 is the one that’s, that’s unseen and police brutality is the one that we can see.

Gupta: I do wonder how, how did you navigate the policies regarding the pandemic in Atlanta specifically, which at times seemed at odds with the governor? The data, for example, in the state of Georgia did not show a 14-day consecutive decline, which was one of the gating criteria for reopening things. As an elected leader, how do you — how do you balance that?

Bottoms: On Friday, Governor Kemp called and has asked me what do we need in Atlanta and what he can do to help. And he’s provided assistance from the state that we’ve needed.

And I think, you know, when you’re in leadership, you can’t take things personally. I didn’t like the decisions made about Covid-19. And I’m sure the governor didn’t like my response to the decisions he made.

But it didn’t stop him as a leader from coming to me, asking me how we could help and how the state could help. And I wasn’t too prideful to go to him and say, we need your help.

Gupta: You’re the mother of four children, Mayor, three sons and a daughter. You’re having conversations with them, I’m sure, as many parents are with their children across America right now. I heard you talking about conversations you’ve had with your own mother back when you were a child. Historic times back then.

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And it feels like these are historic times as well. I feel like sometimes you don’t know how historic something is, the time you’re going through it. Does the gravity, does the importance of what’s happening right now, has it settled in with you and your family in terms of the conversations you’re having?

Bottoms: Now I asked my husband the other day, I said: “What will this moment in time be called?” And I don’t think any of us know the answer to that. I just know it’s something extraordinary that we’re witnessing.

And I said it in my remarks a couple of days ago: What we’ve seen happening across Atlanta, we didn’t see when Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] was assassinated. And so we know that this is, this is something different. And not only is it happening across America, we’re now seeing it happen across the globe.

And the question will be: what will be the difference on the other side of this moment? Will we continue to see the disruption and all that we’ve been seeing over the past few days? Or will this truly be a revolutionary moment? And I think about the words of Audre Lorde quite a bit, “Revolution is not a one-time event.”

Gupta: Do you remember the moment when you first heard the news about George Floyd? Where were you? How did you feel when you first heard that news?

Bottoms: Quite honestly, I don’t like to, I don’t like to watch these moments. And I can tell you, if I were not mayor, you know, I don’t know how much of it I would take in. And I think that’s a coping mechanism because it just hurts so much and it makes you so angry and it makes you feel so helpless.

Actually, I was talking to one of my kids when I watched the video and I was talking to my daughter. She didn’t know what I was watching. And it just — all the feelings that everybody has it just — it, it broke me and it … for a moment, it was just watching in disbelief. Like, I know I’m not seeing what I see.

And I think for as horrific as it was watching the officer with his knee on his neck, what was more disturbing was watching the other officer not do anything about it.

Gupta: That was horrifying. I mean, I will just say it. I watched it. I couldn’t believe one human being was doing that to another human being. I mean, there’s a reason the word human is in the word humanity. We didn’t see that at all.

Bottoms: Yeah, and I kept looking at the other officer’s face, looking to see something, looking to see something in his face that showed he wanted to help or that he had some concern. But I just saw emptiness. The only thing he was concerned about was making sure that the bystanders who were pleading for Mr. Floyd’s life didn’t get any closer to interfere with his murder.

Gupta: Revolutions aren’t a one-time thing. But do you think we’re going to be different after this, Mayor?

Bottoms: I already know they’re different. When I see white police officers taking a knee with protesters, I already know that there is a difference. The pain and the anger and the helplessness, not only is it being heard, but it’s — there, there’s a level of empathy that we’ve not seen with so many other killings across this country.

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And I hate that this man had to be slaughtered in this way. But I would venture to say that he will go down really as a martyr. There, there is a change, and I think that it’s incumbent upon all of us to articulate what it is, what’s the tangible outcome we want from all of this? What is the point of satisfaction?

And the reality is, this won’t be the last time that somebody is killed by a police officer. But our response has to be different.

Gupta: Right. I sent you a text message after Friday’s press conference, and I just sent you a simple text message, but I have to tell you that I watched your remarks several times: rewound, played, rewound, played again.

Did you think about, you know, these comments that you’re making and how they would be reflected through history?

Bottoms: When I was done speaking Friday, I didn’t know what I had said. I had to come home and watch it. I didn’t know what I, what I said on Friday. And as an elected official and I mean and I’m sure everybody can relate to this, you get up and you put on your clothes and you go to work and there’s a — you present and you think about what you say and how you act in this professional setting.

And what you got on Friday, all of that was removed, not just for me, but for all of us. And there just happened to be some cameras that recorded what I felt but I, you know, I guess it represented what so many people are feeling across this country.

Gupta: Yeah, I mean, it touched on a lot of different things in a very personal way. I mean, I think as a leader, as a parent, as a citizen, as a historical figure, you know, at this time in our history, it was powerful, Mayor.

When you were thinking about how to respond to the protesters, the idea of enforcing the law and yet recognizing that this movement was happening in America, this movement was happening in Atlanta. How did you think about how to balance that in your own mind?

Bottoms: Sanjay, this has been a really tough balance because I feel helpless. I feel angry. I feel frustrated. But the balance to that, I know that there are men and women who put on a uniform every day who love and care about our communities. And who do it for all the right reasons and it’s the vast majority of our police officers, in our city at least, they do it with a good heart and with good intentions.

But then there’s always, you know, it only takes one encounter, for it just to throw all the good work out the door. And part of what I said on Friday, when I said, “I can’t protect you” — just as a human being, I know that there is a breaking point for everybody. And we all have different breaking points, but it’s fatigue and it’s frustration and it’s anger, and especially in Atlanta, we have a diverse police force.

You know, our officers are black men who have to take off their uniform and then walk out the door as a black man in America. So they’re feeling all of the same things we’re feeling, so it’s a, it’s a difficult balancing act, and I can’t say that I have perfected it, but just trying to be cognizant of all of those sensitivities and just doing and leading with the heart that I have as a mother and as a daughter of the city who loves this city and everything that it represents.

Gupta: It is a tough balance, I imagine, Mayor, and I’m just speaking as a citizen here of the, of the world. And I think to myself that sometimes the idea of peacefully protesting, while it seems like an eminently reasonable thing to do, if it hasn’t worked — and you see what happened in Baltimore, with Freddie Gray; you see the outcome of that whole thing — that there is an injustice that is not being addressed in the ways that it should be.

Bottoms: Yeah. And I think that’s at the place that we all are. We all — we understand it. What just continues to concern me is that the message and the pain and the hurt and the, and the need for change is going to get lost in the destruction. And I think for all of us, you know, there’s going to be a need for us to really study the civil rights movement. There was a thoughtful organization and plan and outcome that they were seeking to achieve, and what I saw happening in Atlanta on Friday was just chaos.

What was the outcome we were looking for? And even when you see it across America, your, you know, businesses are being burned down and destroyed, which is awful in and of itself. But you’re burning down black businesses, too.

So that’s what I mean about us having to be thoughtful about what we’re trying to achieve and why we’re trying to achieve it. So when you burn down the corner store, you’re burning down the 10 jobs that go along with it.

And the vast majority of these businesses employ people from inside of the community. That’s the part we’re not being thoughtful about.

Gupta: Mayor, I’m curious, when you reflect on your own life, and I’ve heard your story, you’ve been very candid about your own background and how you were raised. I’m wondering when you look back on your life, are there specific things that you think helped prepare you for this moment?

Bottoms: You know, I often say that I stand on generational prayers. And I would often ask my grandparents just to repeat their stories to me over and over again. Just this natural curiosity I’ve always had about my family’s history and my grandmother’s grandparents were slaves in Crawfordsville, Georgia.

And at some point during Reconstruction, I’ve heard that my grandmother’s grandfather served in Congress, and they’ve always owned small businesses and eventually migrated to Atlanta. And on my dad’s side, they… my dad was born on a sharecropper’s farm in Mississippi, and as part of the Great Migration moved to Chicago. And my dad became a very well-known entertainer. Who, and I say this all the time, is a good man who sometimes made bad decisions and you know my dad went to prison, and everything about my life changed in that moment.

And everything that I thought was solid and true disappeared in the blink of an eye. And I think that’s why I have, I have so many sensitivities related to our, just our struggles as an African-American community, because I know each and every day, our community is full of people who get up and want to do better, and they want to get it right and they don’t ever stop trying. And this life just trips us up over and over again.

But all of these experiences and this legacy of my family in America, I carry with me and I stand on that.

Gupta: Yeah. I’ve covered a lot of stories around the world, Mayor, you know, conflicts and natural disasters, and I always say when I come home and I’m talking to my wife and my kids, there are certain things that I find a lot more frightening than others, and one of the things that I put at the top of the list is when there’s a lot of despair.

When people are starting to feel desperate because it becomes very hard then, first of all, you feel for those people who are feeling desperate. There is a certain empathy that we can’t — that you have as a human being.

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But the other part of it is that things become unpredictable. We don’t know how things are going to play out. We don’t know how people are necessarily going to behave when there’s a lot of despair in the environment. How are you feeling about the future right now?

We’re in the midst of what’s happening with these protests and this pandemic — what would you like to leave people with?

Bottoms: We have to have hope. We have to believe that things will get better. If my grandmother’s grandparents, who were slaves, who have seen the record of their value — $1,500 for Shepherd Peek. If he had not believed that there was something better on the other side of him, he would have given up and died in a cotton field in Crawfordville, Georgia.

But even in the midst of whatever it was and all that he faced as a slave, he believed there was something better for him and for his children and for his children’s children. And there’s a line from Maya Angelou in one of her poems, and she says, “I am the hope of the slave.”

And that’s who we have to believe that we are, that we are this generation of people who — so many people, whether it was the slave trade in the Middle Passage, and people who survived the Holocaust or any number of hardships throughout history, that there were people who said, “I’ve got to make it for my children and my children’s children.” And that’s where we are, I believe, in this moment in time.

We’ve got a saying — in the same way that Dr. King and Pastor [Ed] Young and C.T. Vivian and so many others said, “I may not get to the mountaintop with you. But this just ain’t about me, it’s about the future and it’s about what’s going to be better for all of us.”

Gupta: Your words are powerful. I mean, you sometimes, you make it look easy. And I do wonder if you — and you don’t have to answer this — but do you break down ever?

I mean, you seem so strong. You talk about your mother sobbing. When she called, you hadn’t seen her sob, except for when there had been a loss in the family. How about you?

Bottoms: Not often. Not, not often. I … it’s not that I don’t feel the emotions. I … You saw that Friday. But, you know, there is this supernatural strength that I know comes nothing but from the grace of God. I mean I’m tired, I’m irritable, I’m cranky. Even as we speak. But, you know, this is no time to be weary.

Gupta: Well, Mayor, thank you. I know you’ve encouraged protesters to go out and get tested this week, right?

That’s one of the specifics that you’re recommending in in terms of trying to curb this pandemic in the midst of these protests. Is that testing going to be available for people?

Bottoms: Yeah. I believe it’s Denver who’s done a very coordinated effort to set up testing sites for people who have been engaged in protest. So when I get a break this morning, I’m going to circle back with my team and see if we can’t do the same thing in Atlanta.

Gupta: Well, Mayor, I hope we get to talk often.

Bottoms: Any time, it’s my pleasure and thank you so much. I’m so, so grateful for you.

Gupta: Yup. We’re all in this together. We really are. So thank you.

Bottoms: All right. Thank you. Have a good one.

Gupta: I have a lot of respect for the mayor — and I’m proud to be one of her citizens. That was a conversation I won’t soon forget.

We’ll be back tomorrow. Thanks for listening.

If you have questions, please record them as a voice memo and email them to [email protected] — we might even include them in our next podcast.

You can also head to cnn.com/coronavirus and sign up for our daily newsletter, which features the latest updates on this fast-moving story from CNN journalists around the globe. For a full listing of episodes of “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction,” visit the podcast’s page here.

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