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U.S. Reporting Infections are Declining Because of Vaccinations; Pope Francis Concludes Visit in Iraq; Harry And Meghan Make Stunning Claims In Oprah Interview; Pro-Democracy Protestors March After Weekend Of Crackdowns; Trial Starts Monday For Ex-Officer Charged In George Floyd's Death; Biden Signs Executive Order Expanding Voting Access; Republicans advance voter suppression bills across U.S.; NBA All-Star Game: League Honor Historically Black Colleges And Universities. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired March 8, 2021 - 02:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN HOST (on camera): Hi, welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Robyn Curnow. I do want to get us straight to our lead story. We begin this hour, of course, with the stunning claims made by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in their highly anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey. It aired just a few hours ago.

Now, Harry and Meghan spoke candidly about everything from the British tabloids to racism with a clear message that they did not feel supported by the royal family. At one point, Meghan admitted, she had thought about suicide.


MEGHAN MARKLE, DUCHESS OF SUSSEX: But I knew that if I didn't say it, that I would do it. And I just didn't -- I just didn't want to be alive anymore. And that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought.


CURNOW (on camera): That was just one of many bombshell claims. Another stunning revelation, Harry and Meghan say there were questions about what color their baby skin might be. Meghan says they were told the baby wouldn't get a title or have security. The palace has not yet commented on that.

And Meghan says the tabloid reporting that she made Kate Middleton cry ahead of her marriage to Harry was exactly the opposite of what happened. That it was Kate who made Meghan cry.

Also revealed, both Harry and Meghan said they felt trapped in the institution. And one point, Prince Charles stopped taking Harry's phone calls. And Harry says he and his brother William still need space and time to heal.

Well, I want to get some reaction to all of this from Anna Stewart in Windsor England. Anna, hi, good to see you. You've certainly covered the royal wedding right there in Windsor and other events with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Out of everything they said, what is making headlines in the U.K.?

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER (on camera): Well, we were all prepared to have some bombshells dropped, we were prepared to be shocked. I don't think anyone was prepared to feel so concerned by some of the revelations that came out of this interview.

And I think the big headlines here in the U.K. are certainly the idea that Meghan felt suicidal at times when she was here in the U.K. as a working member of the royal family. She asked for help from the palace, from the royal family, and she says she didn't receive any.

And then there is this shocking claim that not only was there sort of racist undertones to the media's reporting of Meghan, but also within the royal family. Meghan says that Prince Harry had a conversation with a member of his family about what the color of their child skin would be. And this was in the early stages of Meghan's pregnancy. Take a listen.


MARKLE: And, also, concerns in conversations about how dark his skin might be when he is born.


MARKLE: And --

WONFREY: Who is having that conversation with you? What?


WINFREY: There is a -- hold up. Stop right now.

MARKLE: There are several conversation.


STEWART (on camera): Concerns about how dark his skin might be. Now, the royal family member in question isn't named. Meghan says it would be very damaging to them. Prince Harry was asked about this later on an interview by Oprah Winfrey and he said, it's not something he wants to talk about.

This was a shocking interview. Some really serious allegations made of the royal family. It will be very interesting to see what the reaction is. We've had no comment so far. They do have a general policy of, you know, never complain, never explain, but I think they're going to have to break with that today. Robyn?

CURNOW: Yes. And my next question also is who is this interview aimed at? American audiences? The British public? The Queen? Courtiers in the palaces? Who are they speaking to?

STEWART: Well, certainly, the American audience were the first to get it. The U.K. audience doesn't actually get to watch the full interview until this evening. But of course, it's all across all of the newspapers and all of the new shows this morning so, there won't be many surprises.

I think, Robyn, this was aimed at a global audience. I think this was the couple seeking justice in the court of public opinion. Time and time again through the interview, they point out to narratives that were widely spread in the media and considered to be true, that weren't true and often were the exact opposite.


For instance, the moment Meghan says there was this story about how she made Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, cry in the run up to her wedding. She says it was the exact opposite. That it was actually Kate that made her cry, and an apology was given.

And it was a really nice point actually that Meghan made. She says you don't have -- if you love me, you don't have to hate her. Which is interesting, given how split opinion has been particularly on social media.

CURNOW: Let's talk about the newspaper headlines in the U.K. As you said, Britain is starting to wake up to some of these headlines. I know we've got some of the early ones to bring out, but previously, Meghan and Harry have been vocal and blamed a lot of their unhappiness on the press and on the tabloids. How much finger pointing was leveled at them?

STEWART: Plenty. And that wasn't a surprise because as you say, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have battled against a tabloid media in particular in the U.K. for years now and actually, quite successfully, with a recent legal victory over "The Mail" on Sunday.

Let's have a look at some of the newspaper front pages we've had this morning. I'm afraid I haven't got a physical copy because it's still rather early here in Windsor.

"The Daily Mail" is leading with "Meghan Accuses Palace of Racism." "Daily Mirror," "They asked how dark Archie skin would be." "The Sun," "Meg, I felt suicidal."

Now, what's interesting is these are tabloid newspapers that really have, well, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have battled against. They're going to profit from the story today, but the good news perhaps to the couple, is at least they are controlling the narrative for once.

And that was what this interview, I think, was designed to do for once now that they are no longer working members of the royal family. They can speak to whomever they like, whenever they like. And they can put their story forward and they can also say which stories weren't true.

CURNOW: Anna Stewart there, live in Windsor. I think you're going to have a bit of a busy day. Thank you, Anna.

So, let's go now to our royal commentator and historian, Kate Williams. Kate Williams is in London. Hi, Kate. Good to see you. Everybody of course wondering just how far the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would share, how far they would go, how much they would share. And the world now has the answer to that, a lot. What, for you, were the key points?

KATE WILLIAMS, CNN ROYAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Robyn, this was a bombshell interview. Revelation after revelation. And it was Harry and Meghan, telling their story, just as you and Anna were discussing there. There have been so many false narratives put around about them, things we believe to be true.

From the fact that we thought it was the case that they didn't want Archie to have a title but, it turns out, that this was a palace decision that Archie should not be -- should not have a title, should not have security.

And we saw in this interview, I mean, it was a bombshell interview. And of huge revelations, and revelations that the palace cannot just ignore. The palace have to address. And these are, chiefly, the fact that Meghan felt so distressed -- so distressed when she was pregnant that she had considered suicide and she begged for help.

She said, I need to go somewhere for help, and she was told no. It wouldn't look good. It wouldn't look good for the institution. And this is very, very striking because you have had mental health campaigns within the palace.

William, Kate, and Harry, talking about mental health, the importance of mental health. Of course, Diana herself, suffered suicidal thoughts when she was very newly married. And what does this say about the royal family and the fact that there was no one to help her and there was no one to listen to her.

And the other big question, which is all over the front of the newspapers today is this point, who was talking about Archie's skin color? Who was saying that Archie expressing concern that Archie's skin will be as Oprah put it, too brown.

And as Meghan and Harry were implying, bonded together and said, that there was a connection between Archie's skin color and the fact that he wasn't made a prince. Now, I should just say that, you know, Archie would automatically made a prince, the automatic prince in that younger generation.

That was Prince George, son of William and Kate, but there was an intervention made so that Charlotte and Louis, they could be princess and prince. So the intervention could have been made for Archie, but was now. Obviously, Harry and Meghan were very distressed about that and they did seem to be, as Meghan put it, these conversations were happening at the same times as one expressing concern about the color of Archie's skin.

And as she puts it, the commonwealth has many, many people of color in the commonwealth, and as she put it, wouldn't it be great to have a member of the royal family who looked like them? And yet, that didn't seem to be what the conversation was about.

And this is a very serious allegation, very distressing, and obviously, Harry and Meghan, making it very clear, these are the reasons why they left. Tabloid coverage, no support in the royal family, and distressing attitudes as well.

CURNOW: And you also rightly say, that it's unlikely that the Queen or Prince Charles or even Prince William will respond directly to some of these direct allegations. Unless you think there's going to be a change in tradition.


There is a tradition that the Duchess of Sussex was clearly upset about of not replying to every story about the royal family. How difficult will it be then for Harry's family to listen to all of that, and then not be able to offer alternatives or defend themselves from these allegations or to present another side of the story, if there is another side?

WILLIAMS: Well, we understand that the Queen wasn't going to watch it. We understand that she's going to be briefed this morning by courtiers who had watched it. We don't know about other members of the royal family, but obviously, it is going to be on in this country tonight, this evening, on our TV channels.

And so everyone knows what's in there. And although the royal family have a policy of not explaining and not complaining, they do actually make interventions. Often event interventions are made from sources, though quite a lot of sources, last year, we were talking about how the crown was not at all the truth, et cetera.

And sometimes, sources say this isn't the case. We have had this week, there have been story after story on somewhat sites 40 or 50 stories about Meghan, all of the negative. And some of them were coming from sources saying she had been bullying and she's investigating the bullying.

So, there can be, you know, the royal family do make statements and they do answer points, and it may be that we do see an answer here. But certainly, Meghan and Harry made it very clear that they have a huge affection for the Queen. I wasn't. The queen was very welcoming.

And it's not really the Queen that they appear to be talking about here. Its other members of the courtiers and other members of the royal family. But certainly, I think that these allegations have to be addressed in some way because they are really going to run and run.

And particularly as we're saying, that Meghan was in such a low state that she was suicidal and that there were baseless comments about our Archie's skin color and that this was viewed as concerning.

CURNOW: Kate Williams, live in London. Thank you very much for joining us. Thank you, Kate. So Pope Francis has visited Iraq. That is now over, but he says the

country will always remain in his heart. We'll have a live report on that historic visit. That's next.

Also, the U.S. reports fewer COVID cases and many more vaccinations. But experts say the country isn't out of the woods yet. Why they still fear another spike in cases. That, too, is next.



CURNOW: Welcome back. It is 15 minutes past the hour. I'm Robyn Curnow. And the U.S. is reporting more positive developments in the fight against COVID. But experts are urging people to not to let their guard down soon. Even though daily infection numbers have fallen in recent weeks, experts say the decline has plateaued at a very high rate averaging more than 55,000 cases a day.

But the good news is that vaccination rates are also up. The U.S. has now administered more than 90 million doses. Dr. Comilla Sasson is an emergency medicine physician. She has crisscrossed the country helping E.R.'s from New York to most recently California battle COVI, and she joins me now from Denver.

Doctor, hi. Thank you for joining us. So, since this pandemic began, you've packed up, you've left your family, you've cared for thousands of patients in emergency rooms across eight states. I know you're tired, but how do you keep on fighting and how do you keep on doing this?

COMILLA SASSON, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: You know, I think it's just that feeling that you need to really just go out and help and that there's people that need the help. A lot of colleagues, right, a lot of health care workers, a lot of doctors, nurses, physicians out there that are just really, just can't keep up with the volumes.

And I think that's where you feel like you have to kind of run to the fire. You know, as a doctor, I've always felt like I needed to be there to help and we've done really well here in Colorado, and so, I've always just sort of said, okay, wherever you need me, I'm going to go there.

CURNOW: And so as you go there, COVID has put everyone through so much. You're asking people to keep on sacrificing. What's your message to states that are considering opening up again or lifting these mask mandates?

SASSON: You know, at this point, I think it's, you know, after a year of doing this, after picking up and leaving and leaving your family and just seeing so much heartache and so much destruction of communities, of families, of lives, of holding so many hands as people die and pass away, and they are so alone when they die from COVID, I'm the last person that they see.

You know, I think this last trip actually really kind of broke me. You know, I think I finally just realized, gosh, I'm exhausted. And talking to my colleagues, we're all exhausted, and I don't think any of us have the ability to just say, gosh, you know, we can't keep doing this surges over and over and over again. We don't have it in us anymore.

And so the idea that all of a sudden, you know, we're going to stop wearing masks that everything is going to go back to normal. I think all of us are just so afraid, we're shell-shocked. Like, we can't do this again.

And so, this is, you know, a plea to the public, please wear your masks, please. I think sometimes we take it for granted that the health care workers are going to be there to help you, and we want to be there, but we're so tired and we just need your help. We need you guys to help us. Everyone's actions matter and this is where if you can get vaccinated, if you can wear your mask, it's going to help us help you.

CURNOW: You sound tired and I mean, is this the kind of exhaustion that is just deep within your bones. It is not just a physical exhaustion is it, a mental and emotional exhaustion by just having to be there on people's deathbeds like you said, over and over again.

SASSON: Yes. And you know, it's one of those things where I think for a long time you say, oh gosh, I went into this to save lives and I think COVID has just been so different because there's so little that we can do.

And you get to the point where you realize, gosh, you know, if we just prevented this. If I had just not have this person ever come in to my emergency department, if they have just never gotten sick, they would be back at home with my their family.

And it's young people, it's old people, it's grandfathers, it's mothers, it daughters. I doesn't discriminate, and I think that's where it finally just kind of gets to you because you go bash the suit. These are my friends, these are my family members and there's other co-workers and colleagues.


You know, the place that I went to, they've lost their own nurses and doctors on their floors, were actually people that they took care of. And so when you lose your own I think that's when you kind of just go, this is too much.

CURNOW: Comilla, thank you very much for all of your work. The exhaustion, I know, and I can see it, but I think all of us who are watching. Thank you very much for all the moments that I think you've shared --

SASSON: Thank you.

CURNOW: -- with people who have needed you. Thank you.

SASSON: Thank you. CURNOW: So right now, Pope Francis is on his way back to Rome after a

historic visit to Iraq. The pope participated in a farewell ceremony at Baghdad airport the last hour. Before he left, the pontiff visited four key cities and prayed for the victims of war.

He celebrated mass at a stadium packed with people in Erbil and he said Iraq will always remain in his heart. Well, our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is live from Erbil. Ben, talk through some of these moments?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They were extraordinary moments and this is a trip that so many people didn't think was a good idea, so many people thought would not go off or would be plagued by problems.

But it seems to have gone off without a hitch. And everywhere the pope went, he was met by very enthusiastic crowds, Muslims as well as Christians. The high point of his day yesterday was a mass in the Franso Hariri Stadium here in Erbil, attended by at least 8,000 people.

And at the end of that mass, he did come out with some Arabic. He said salaam, salaam, salaam, shukraan, which man peace, peace, peace. Thank you. And apparently, the crowd was absolute -- went wild over that. And certainly, every step of the way, he was met by enthusiasm and happiness.

There was or some people for instance, among the Sunni community who felt that he didn't focus enough on them. His focus, obviously, was very much on the Shia when he went to meet the grand ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, the Christians as well. He focused on the Yazidis who've suffered under ISIS.

But by and large, I think, he has left Iraq a better place, with people feeling that as one woman told Tamaka Kiblawi (ph), our senior digital producer yesterday at the stadium, that perhaps now there is hope. Robyn?

CURNOW: Hope, which is a big word for folks there in Iraq. Certainly, you talk about these wonderful moments, these wonderful trip. How much of a lasting impact do you think it will have, beyond the symbolism and the gestures?

WEDEMAN: It's difficult to say, but I think for Iraqis, this was sort of a moment that crystallized what their country could be. Keep in mind for instance, that the median age here in Iraq is 21. And the last time life could be described as normal was before the Iran-Iraq war which began in 1981.

And therefore, you have to be more than 40 years old to remember anything from that time. And the scenes we have seen over the last four days were absolutely stunning. Now, reality will quickly sink in. For instance, this is a country that is dealing a spike in COVID cases, the economy has suffered greatly as a result of the drop in demand for oil, as a result of the COVID pandemic. There is rampant corruption. There have been frequent outbreaks of

mass protest with people unhappy with the state of the economy, the state of governance and basic public services. So yes, it's hard to say how long and what sort of lasting impact it will be.

But as I said, it gave Iraqis a glimpse of what this country, which has huge potential, human potential, economic potential, agricultural potential, everything. It's allowed people to see that perhaps there is light at the tunnel for a country that has suffered so much, for so long. Robyn?

CURNOW: Yes. And great as you've been reporting, that folks are seeing a good news story coming out of Iraq. Ben Wedeman, always great to have you there on the grounds. Thanks so much.

So coming up on CNN, Harry and Meghan did not hold back, did they? Some of what they said even stunned Oprah Winfrey. More of that highly anticipated interview, that's just ahead as well.



CURNOW (on camera): Welcome back to all of our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. Thanks for joining me. I am Robyn Curnow, and it is 28 minutes past the hour.

So, Oprah Winfrey's wide-ranging interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex has stunned many viewers on many levels. Pick your topic. The couple spoke candidly about everything from the British tabloids, to mental health, and a shocking revelation as well.

Meghan said she felt so alone at one point, she thought of suicide. Another jaw-dropping claim, Harry and Meghan said there were questions about what color their baby skin might be and there was an implication that would impact his security and standing as a royal.


MARKLE: But the idea of our son not being safe, and also the idea of the first member of color in this family not being titled in the same way that other grandchildren would be.


CURNOW (on camera): Sandro Monetti is an entertainment journalist and former royal correspondent. He joins me now from Los Angeles. Hi. Lovely to hear you. Lovely to see you. If all families are complex, especially ones that have conflict or broken relationships, this was such personal family stuff. I want you to take a listen.


PRINCE HARRY, DUKE OF SUSSEX: He's been through something similar. He knows what pain feels like. And this is - and Archie is his grandson.



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ACHOR: He's talking about his dad, the future King of England, Prince Charles. Why do you think that Duke and Duchess gave this interview? Gave so much? Went so public?

SANDRO MONETTI, FILM & ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST: They clearly had a lot to get off their chest. And if this interview was a boxing match, it would have been stopped halfway through to save the royal family from further punishment. Meghan came out throwing punches, Harry added a few haymakers of his own at the end, and it was it was a knockout.

And yes, the trailer, it didn't - it wasn't all in the trailer. There was an amazing revelations. All hail Queen Oprah for getting a great interview.

CURNOW: So, clearly, so much pain, so many hurt feelings. How much then was this about Oprah's moment as well as the Duke and Duchess'?

MONETTII: She's very skilled at empathy and getting people to open up. And I think there are very few interviewers on the planet who would have got such a reaction. The most poignant moment of the interview for me was seeing Meghan talk about the deep level of her pain. And no matter, if you're team queen or team Meghan, anyone would fail to be moved by - anyone could not fail to be moved by that emotional outpouring.

And, yes, it was - we'd heard these rumors for years, but to actually hear Meghan herself voice it, and then Harry share his feelings as well. That was an emotional gut punch.

CURNOW: So who was the audience then? And I've asked this of other guests as well. Was it the queen, was it Prince Charles, was it the British public or was it Americans or courtiers? Who was it? Who were they talking to?

MONETTII: They were talking directly to the royal family. This was payback. Meghan started off almost tap dancing through a minefield, not wanting to say anything too explosive, being very careful to compliment the queen. But when they start talking about taking titles away, who do you think does that? The queen is the ultimate boss.

So to me, this was almost an act of war on the royal family. The relationship is fractured. This was blowing it much further apart. There's clearly a lot of bitterness and resentment. But it was - their pain was so real and conveyed so well, this is a turning point in history for the royal family. They may need to change their entire policy of answering these things, because they have so many questions to answer.

CURNOW: Yes, that was going to be my next question. There is a tradition of not answering every slur or every wrong story or every truthful story, that there's a tradition of silence within the royal family. So do you think they need to answer every accusation that was laid out? Or do you feel like a line has been drawn in the sand here? And that perhaps, this family can move on after Harry and Meghan had their say.

MONETTII: That policy has worked for the royal family, for the most part, except in 1995, with the bombshell Princess Diana interview, and now in 2021, with Meghan and Harry talking to Oprah. The royal family are surrounded by some very skillful communications and PR operators, but they've never had an opponent - and I use that word deliberately, like Meghan, who is incredibly savvy in modern media communication. This is a war and it's interesting to find out who's going to win it.

CURNOW: So do you think there will be another salvo then from the royal family, some in Britain? There are many people only waking up to the details of this interview. Some Britons will think this is disrespectful to Queen. That is airing dirty laundry. Others will agree with Oprah and with the Duchess of Sussex saying this is their authentic truth.

In many ways is this about trying to bring down the monarchy? About burning the house down? This is the grandson of the Queen who's making these very, very tough accusations about the very family that he comes from.

MONETTII: It's Shakespearean, it's dramatic, it's operatic. And yes, there were clues in the interview itself about what might happen next. Meghan talked about the British tabloids being invited to the palace. Now, you might see that as an opportunity to build bridges rather than seeing the media as the enemy.

But when they were talking about all the stories that have come out in negative about Meghan and Harry, who do they think is the source of those stories? It would be really interesting, because Buckingham Palace is leaking like a sieve. Who in the royal family - in the senior royal family is the source of all these stories? I thought that as good as Oprah's interview was.


We didn't quite get all the names. So it gave us so many answers, but it left us with an awful lot of questions as well, and there's so many bad ones for the royal family to answer going forward. I think they will use the press in whatever way they can to hit back.

CURNOW: Sandro Monetti, good to speak to you. Thanks so much for your expertise and opinion.

MONETTII: God Save the Queen.

CURNOW: We'll be right back. You're watching CNN.


SARAH AL AMIRI, MINISTER OF STATE FOR ADVANCED SCIENCE, UAE: I'm over the Mars at the moment. It's been quite a remarkable journey of over six years now of working on this mission. A series of channel challenges. I think the most nerve wracking of them was the last 27 minutes that I don't ever want to redo in my life again. But we did it. We're around Mars for the very first time as the fifth nation and the very first Arab nation.

We went through a lot of challenges we went through various times where things broke, when they weren't supposed to be broken. We had to fix it in time to get this spacecraft to where it needs to be today. I'm really grateful with the performance of the spacecraft.

What has made this mission remarkable, Becky, not only the 200 Emirates that were working on this, it's the 450 people from so - from different continents, from different backgrounds, from different beliefs. This was truly an international endeavor. And this is what science needs to be.


CURNOW: Security forces in Myanmar throwing flashbang grenades in Yangon on Saturday night. These are the images. They were conducting raids and making arrests. But it's not stomping protesters. They're marching again today, even after a weekend of violent crackdowns.


CURNOW: I want to go straight to Paula Hancocks. Paula is in Seoul with more on these latest developments. Every day we speak, Paula, there seems to be another escalation, another pushback from protesters in the face of this ongoing violence?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Robyn, we might see a very significant crowds today, certainly from the livestreams that we've been seeing, people are coming out in numbers. But on Sunday, we had 18 labor unions calling for a nationwide work stoppage, for a shutdown, for everybody to come out onto the streets for a full extended shutdown of Myanmar's economy. So it will be interesting to see just how many people do decide to come out onto the streets today.

As you say, there was another crackdown by security forces over the weekend. We know there were - there was tear gas, there was also rubber bullets, live ammunition into crowds of protesters. And we know that there were arrests on Saturday night, including one member of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party.


Now, according to a Burmese NGO, the AAPP, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, they say that Khin Maung Latt, this one particular individual has died in custody. Now, they say, he was arrested Saturday night by security forces and that he was tortured to death in his cell.

Now, CNN has been unable to independently verify this, but this is clearly something that is a very worrying piece of information. And certainly those from outside of Myanmar will be looking at this very closely.

We're also hearing reports verified, in some part by the United Nations, that they also hearing these reports that the military is starting to occupy some of the hospitals within Myanmar itself. We had been hearing that the military was trying to take possession of some patients or even some of those deceased in the protests. And that appears to be something that the UN is looking at very closely as well. Robyn.

CURNOW: OK and we will continue to monitor that too. Paula Hancocks, there live in Seoul. Thanks for that update.

So for our international viewers, WORLD SPORT is next. For our viewers here in the United States. There's more news after this quick break, I'll bring you that stick with us. You're watching CNN.



CURNOW: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Robyn Curnow live from CNN WORLD NEWS headquarters here in Atlanta. So jury selection will begin just hours from now in the trial of the ex-police officer accused of murdering George Floyd. He died nearly a year ago in police custody. The world saw the awful images of a policeman's knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Today that former officer Derek Chauvin goes on trial in Minneapolis. The city is bracing for possible protests. They have put up fences around the courthouse and deployed extra police, even National Guard troops. The governor called the trial the most important in the country right now.

Well, George Floyd's heartbroken family spoke this weekend. They told reporters they feel their pain and loss as deeply as ever.


PHILONISE FLOYD, BROTHER OF GEORGE FLOYD: I think about my brother over and over again. I have no choice. You all have no choice. You see him every day on somebody's TV, somebody has t-shirt, and it's pain that we're feeling every day.

My brother said, I can't breathe multiple times. But the officer sat on his neck with a smirk on his face. My brother screamed, tell my kids I love him, as his soul left his body. I can't stop thinking about that.


CURNOW: Just one member of the Floyd family will be allowed into the trial each day because of COVID restrictions. Well, Omar Jimenez reports on the preparations inside and outside the courtroom.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): This is the beginning of a process. It's been a long time coming in this case and a process that's not expected to be an easy one. Now, what we do know is cameras will be allowed in the courtroom, but no potential or chosen jurors will be shown. This will be a sequestered jury selection process. Meaning, each of these potential jurors or chosen ones will be examined separately from one another. And prospective jurors were sent a 16 page questionnaire, asking about everything from their prior knowledge of this case, literally down to what news sources they primarily consume as the trial for Derek Chauvin gets underway.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Some calling for justice to letting the justice system play out. Derek Chauvin, the former officer seen on that know infamous cellphone video kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for nearly eight excruciating minutes.

He is standing trial for second degree unintentional murder and second degree manslaughter, both of which he's pleaded not guilty to, but the first carrying a weight of up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

The case is likely to bring protesters and renewed attention to George Floyd's death. His family remains at the center of it all, balancing grief with the weight of a racial justice movement.

Now, with the trial on the horizon, preparations are under way on a number of fronts, including closing the intersection where some of Floyd's final moments played out, leaving it as a central grieving point as it was in the immediate aftermath of his death.

MAYOR JACOB FREY, MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA: We fully expect our Minneapolis residents to engage in the time-honored tradition of their First Amendment rights and speech and we want to make sure that that right to protest is protected in every way, shape and form.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): But what some protests over the summer devolved into is still fresh in the minds of city officials. It's why they say to expect an increased law enforcement presence over the next weeks, even months with up to 2,000 National Guard prepared to respond.

MEDARIA ARRADONDO, MINNEAPOLIS CHIEF OF POLICE: We cannot allow for any sorts of unlawful activity.

JIMENEZ (voice-over): Not to mention the physical barriers going up around the government center where the trial will be taking place. Then there's COVID-19 protocol.

Chauvin will be the only of the four former officers on trial this spring with Judge Peter Cahill citing physical limitations of the courtroom, "make it impossible to comply with COVID-19 physical restrictions in a joint trial involving all four defendants beginning March 8, 2021. Given the number of lawyers and support personnel the parties have now advised the court are expected to be present during trial."

And the judge said it's the largest courtroom they have. Tied to that, only one member of the Chauvin family and one member of the Floyd family will be allowed in the courtroom at a time, a decision the Floyd family called disappointing.

FLOYD: The video is enough. There's nothing else to talk about. You can make a judgment off of that, because Chauvin showed you, he was the judge, the jury, and executioner all at once, right then and there, when he took my brother's soul from his body.


JIMENEZ (voice-over): And with jury selection beginning March 8th, opening statements weeks later, a country watches as a test of police accountability gets under way, which many see as a major step toward justice for George Floyd.


JIMENEZ (on camera): And every day, starting Monday, until potentially up to March 26th, jury selection begins at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time and goes until 6:00 p.m. Outside of jury selection, the judge in this case initially dropped a third degree murder charge that prosecutors wanted for Chauvin, but an Appeals Court judge ruled that this initial judge needs to reconsider reinstating it. So it's unclear whether any sort of reinstatement would affect the timing and this.

But for now, jury selection Monday, opening statements set for March 29th. Omar Jimenez, CNN, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

CURNOW: So President Biden has signed an executive order expanding voting access across the U.S. The White House calls it an initial step to protect the right to vote and to ensure all eligible citizens can freely participate in the electoral process.

Now, this move comes as Republicans in state houses around the country work to rollback voting access in the wake of the 2020 election. President Biden signed the order on Sunday, the 56th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, that's the day when peaceful African-American demonstrators, demanding voting rights, were attacked by state troopers in Selma, Alabama, as you can see from these iconic and horrifying pictures still.

So a recent study from the Brennan Center for Justice found lawmakers in 43 U.S. states has pushed more than 250 bills aimed at limiting voter access. So CNN Political Analyst April Ryan says, "The drive for voter suppression comes from Republican desire to counter the success of Democrats." Take a listen.


APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's what was about 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was passed into law and signed into law by then President LBJ. It's about voter suppression, suppressing people from speaking, having a voice, wanting to be heard, to say what they want. At the end of the day today, in 2021, 56 years from Bloody Sunday, we are seeing many of these legislatures in these 43 states that are Republican, trying to suppress the vote. Why?

Because they don't want to see the other party succeed. And we know from data, data has shown us that Democrats have a tendency to early vote. Democrats are the ones who put Georgia over the top, a Republican state. Democrats made a noise in Texas. They were fearful. Many Republicans were fearful that they were going to lose Texas.

So this is a groundswell game, that Stacey Abrams, LeBron James, and so many others have put in the forefront and there is a fierce fight. A fierce fight in 2021 by these Republican led state legislatures to change the dynamic, to change it back to red.


CURNOW: And April mentioned their NBA superstar LeBron James, he's turning his focus from basketball to voting rights. The organization founded by James and several other athletes and artists is looking to draw attention to these recent Republican backed legislations, legislation that aims to restrict voter access in number of states.

Now, the campaign made its debut at the NBA All Star Game on Sunday, which took place right next door to the CNN Center here. And that's where it LeBron James also led his team to victory 170 to 150.

This year, the NBA combined the game of what's usually a weekend full of events and contests, into a single day as Andy Scholes reports, Andy?


ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the normal NBA All-Star weekend happening all in one night and there may not have been a packed house for this All-Star Game, but it was special, raising more than $3 million for historical black colleges and universities, the League honoring different HBCUs and frontline workers throughout the night during the game.

Now, before the game started, actor Michael B. Jordan chatted with Vice President Kamala Harris. She's a proud HBCU graduate of Howard University, and she encouraged everyone in that chat to get the COVID vaccine when it's their turn.

Now, the game feature team LeBron vs. Team Durant the first time ever, LeBron and Steph Curry were teammates for a game. But this game was the Steph, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard show. Steph shooting three shots from half court, even catching an alley-oop and this one. He scored 28 points.

Giannis made all 16 of his shots scoring, a game high 35. He was named the MVP of this one and Lillard winning the game from a way downtown as team LeBron would beat team Durant in this one 170 to 150.


Now, the game was Steph Curry's encore, because earlier in the night he put on a show in the three point contest, the 2015 champ, putting up a record 31 in the first round. Then Steph needed to hit his last two shots in order to beat the Jazz's Mike Conley, and of course, Curry made them both to become the seventh player ever to own multiple three point titles.

Now, at halftime of the game was the Dunk Contest, and it was the Blazers' Anfernee Simons, outlasting the Knicks' Obi Toppin, skying high, almost kissing the rim, to become the 2021 Slam Dunk champion.

Now, LeBron and the NBA are also using All-Star Weekend to fight voter suppression. Many states, including Georgia, where the All-Star Game was held, have introduced legislation to restrict voting. And in a new ad for "More Than A Vote," LeBron says there's still plenty of work to do.

LEBRON JAMES, AMERICAN BASKETBALL PLAYER: So this isn't the time to put your feet up or to think posting hashtags and Black Squares is enough. Because for us, this was never about one election, it's always been more than a vote.

SCHOLES: And LeBron saying before the All-Star Game that he will continue to highlight and educate people on what's going on in communities around the country.


CURNOW: Thanks to Andy Scholes there.

Well, I'm Robyn Curnow, thanks for spending part of your day with me. Have a wonderful Monday, a wonderful week. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @RobynCurnowCNN. And another hour of CNN with my colleague Rosemary Church begins right after this break. Enjoy.