Pentagon Chief Mark Esper Does Not Support Invoking the Insurrection Act Against Protesters

Getty U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper holds a media briefing at the Pentagon August 28, 2019 in Arlington, Virginia.

Pentagon Chief Mark Esper said he does not condone President Trump’s suggestion of using the Insurrection Act against George Floyd protesters. In a press briefing Wednesday, Esper said that “using active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort.”

His statements come after President Trump alluded to using the Insurrection Act to control the chaos that has come out of some of the protests around the nation following the killing of a black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer on May 25 during an arrest in Minneapolis.

On Monday ABC News reported that President Trump threatened to use the active-duty military, saying, “If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

The Insurrection Act is explained by U.S. Legal as:

The set of laws passed in 1807 that govern the U.S. President’s ability to deploy troops within the U.S. to put down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion. The Act aims to limit Presidential power as much as possible, relying on state and local governments for initial response in the event of insurrection. The Act, with the Posse Comitatus Act limited and delayed Presidential powers for law enforcement.

As protests continue with some turning violent and destructive, 23 states and D.C. have activated their National Guards, according to Just Security, which is based at the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law.

Wednesday, Esper said the National Guard is enough. In a press briefing Wednesday, he said:

I’ve always believed and continue to believe that the National Guard is best suited for performing domestic support for civil authorities in these situations in support of local law enforcement. I say this not only as the Secretary of Defense, but also as a former soldier, and a former member of the National Guard. The option to use active-duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the insurrection act.

The Last Time the Insurrection Act was Invoked in the U.S. Was After the Verdict in the Rodney King Case When Four Police Officers who Attacked & Beat King During a Traffic Stop Were Found Not Guilty of a Crime, Sparking Protests & Riots in L.A.

GettyLos Angeles Police Department officers Ted Briseno (2nd L) and Laurence Powell (R) are escorted by Ventura County Deputy Sheriff and Powell’s father (2nd R) through media room, 29 April 1992, after they were acquitted of all charges except for one against Lawrence Powell. The 1992 Los Angeles riots, with looting and arson events, erupted 29 April 1992 when a mostly white jury acquitted the four police officers accused in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King, after he fled from police. 52 people were killed during the riots and Rodney King became a reluctant symbol of police brutality.

The Insurrection Act is not often used. “The law, signed by President Thomas Jefferson, has been invoked 14 times, most recently in 1992 by President George H. W. Bush in response to the Los Angeles County riots after the Rodney King verdict,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The video of King being kicked and beaten with batons for 15 minutes was taken before camera phones existed when a bystander with a video camera caught the beating on tape. The footage ignited outrage as it was blast across newscasts. When all four officers involved in the beating were found not guilty of using excessive force, riots erupted in Los Angeles for five days.

The beating left King with permanent brain damage, a skull fracture, and broken bones and teeth, according to NPR.

According to Just Security’s article, California Governor Pete Wilson requested the help of the military saying, “the California National Guard lacked the ability to quell the domestic disturbance. Shortly thereafter, Bush issued an executive order, which authorized the defense secretary to federalize the California National Guard and deploy active-duty Army and Marine personnel from bases in California to the scenes of the riots.”

While it is generally up to states to request invoking the Insurrection Act, in some cases the President has the authority to use it without the state’s request.

According to Cornell Law:

Whenever the President considers that unlawful obstructions, combinations, or assemblages, or rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws of the United States in any State by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, he may call into Federal service such of the militia of any State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to enforce those laws or to suppress the rebellion.

Esper Said America Needs to Address its Issues With Racism “Once and For All” & Hopes for Peaceful Demonstrations to Honor George Floyd and Seek Accountability for His Murder

GettyProtesters march on Hiawatha Avenue while decrying the killing of George Floyd on May 26, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The George Floyd protests have been ongoing for over a week,  spanning coast to coast. Calls for an end to police brutality and excessive force have led to clashes and violence in some cities. Even as demonstrators voice the need for change because #BlackLivesMatter,   suspected organized groups are jumping into the fray in efforts to dismantle peace and order.

On Wednesday Esper said:

This is a tough time for our great country these days, but we will get through it. My hope is that instead of the violence in the streets, we will see peaceful demonstrations that honor George Floyd, that press for accountability for his murder, that move us to reflect about racism in America. And that serve as a call to action for us to come together and to address this problem, once and for all. This is the America your military represents. This is the America we aspire to be. And this is the America that we’re committed to defending with our lives.

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