Craig Melvin previews 'emotional' interviews with George Floyd, Eric Garner, Jacob Blake families on 'Dateline' special

by 24USATVJan. 7, 2021, 9 p.m. 29
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Conversations about police brutality reached a fever pitch last summer after the death of George Floyd, and a new "Dateline NBC" special Thursday aims to further that conversation.

The families of three Black men – Floyd, Eric Garner and Jacob Blake, who died or were injured at the hands of police – are speaking out in the new special, "Journey for Justice" (10 EST/PST), hosted by NBC News anchor Craig Melvin. The special coincides with complaints by civil rights leaders that law enforcement aggressively pushed back on Black Lives Matter demonstrations but failed to curb Wednesday's attack on the U.S. Capitol.

"Thursday night, we devote just as much time talking about potential solutions as we do to talking about the problems," Melvin says. The special features interviews with Floyd’s siblings, Blake’s father and sister, and Garner’s mother and son.

The death of Floyd, a Black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck, ignited protests of racial injustice across the country, including a March on Washington in late August.

Melvin chronicled the aftermath of George Floyd's death, from his funeral proceedings to protests.

"When you're covering a story like that, day in and day out for a couple of months, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture – whether it's policy implications or cultural implications, because you get so caught up in the day-to- day," he says. "Dateline" producers approached him about advancing coverage of racial injustice. He thought about Gwen Carr, Garner's mother, whom he had come to know over the years through interviews and funerals. Garner died in 2014 after a police officer put him in a choke hold.

"I would interview Gwen when an unarmed black man was shot and killed or died at the hands of police. (Carr) would be at the funeral," Melvin says. She agreed to join him on the show.

"I knew that once we got these families in a room together, it was going to be emotional and raw," Melvin adds. "We wanted them to talk about being a part of this club that no one wants to be a part of, but we also wanted the conversation to be an impetus for a larger conversation about solutions."

The first segment of the hourlong special focuses on the families' stories, and how they were thrust into a sudden spotlight that most people can't fathom. But it goes beyond that.

"It was important to us to not just focus on the retelling of stories that we've become familiar with, but to focus on solutions to problems that we can all acknowledge exist," Melvin says.

The segment also features perspectives of Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), civil rights attorney Ben Crump; Jim Palmer, the executive director of Wisconsin's Professional Police Association; and Yale University professor Phillip Goff.

Blake's father, Jacob Blake Sr., grows visibly emotional discussing his son's case. In August, a police officer shot him in the back, leaving him paralyzed. Kenosha County, Wisconsin, district attorney Michael Graveley said earlier this week the officer, Rusten Sheskey, will not be charged.

The families also discuss last summer's March on Washington. "It's one thing to talk to one or two people about your loss and what that person meant to you," Melvin says. "Or in Jacob Blake Sr.'s case, not your loss, but having (your child's) life changed in a dramatic way in a few seconds. But it's another thing entirely when you are surrounded by other people who have similar stories."

In a preview moment shared on the Today Show, Blake Sr. can be seen breaking down in tears. Melvin approaches situations like these with grace.

"When someone is talking about the death of a loved one, or someone's talking about a loved one being injured in an unimaginable way, I never interrupt or stop a mother or father, sister, brother, a child from grieving during an interview," he says.

He has found over the years that for these people, it's cathartic. "Sometimes I'm just a vessel that allows them to grieve, and to say things that they've been wanting to say," he says.

Melvin wants audiences to empathize with them and to comprehend "the humanity of some of the people that we've lost, who've been injured in police custody, that they understand a little bit more about who these people were," he says.

He's also eager for viewers to listen to solutions that family members, lawmakers and police unions are proposing – and it's not about defunding the police.

"These families didn't spend two hours talking about how defunding the police would have kept their loved ones alive. That's not the focus," he says.

In case you missed:No charges against Kenosha police in Jacob Blake shooting, DA says; officer 'felt he was about to be stabbed'

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