Washington, Jun 3 (efe-epa).- Defense Secretary Mark Esper attempted to distance himself from President Donald Trump on Wednesday by saying that he does not consider it necessary to use active duty US troops to contain the wave of protests around the country unleashed by the suffocation death in police custody of George Floyd, an African American who had been arrested and subdued by white Minneapolis cops.
“I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act,” Esper said at a press conference at the Pentagon on Wednesday after Trump had declared two days before that he was prepared to use the US military to end protests.
“I’ve always believed and continue to believe that the National Guard is best-suited for performing domestic support to civil authorities in these situations,” Esper said, adding that “The option to use active duty forces 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,” Esper stated unequivocally.
On Monday, Trump had announced his intent to deploy “thousands and thousands” of heavily armed troops, along with police, to quell the disturbances in Washington DC after several nights of protests and looting in the US capital.
He had also claimed in the White House Rose Garden that the country had been “gripped by professional anarchists, violent mobs, arsonists, looters, criminals, rioters, Antifa, and others.”
Shortly after that televised message, demonstrators who had gathered near the White House were dispersed by security forces using tear gas.
“I am mobilizing all available, federal resources, civilian and military, to stop the rioting and looting to end the destruction and arson and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans,” Trump said shortly before the attack on protesters, which was evidently a move to clear a path for the president and his entourage, including Esper, to walk from the White House to a nearby church for a brief photo op at which Trump made no remarks.
Moreover, Trump went on to say on Monday that “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.”
US law allows domestic use of the Armed Forces in only a few cases and it is unclear whether any such order by Trump under the current circumstances would be legal.
Although tensions have been reduced over the past 24 hours, the protests are still continuing around the country, with at least 40 cities having declared curfews and remaining under at least partial control by the National Guard, and even on Tuesday the US capital experienced an unprecedented and noisy protest as demonstrators continued to gather in front of the White House.
More than a week after the handcuffed Floyd died of asphyxiation as a white police officer knelt for almost nine minutes on his neck, largely peaceful street protests continued in dozens of cities, but the destruction and looting that had occurred earlier in the week – opportunistic mayhem that appeared to have little connection with Floyd’s death or the protests against police brutality and/or systemic racism – seem to have been considerably reduced.