US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said on Wednesday that he does not support deploying US military to quell large or violent protests across the United States, saying the use of such forces should only be a last resort.
Speaking in a briefing from the Pentagon on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper spoke out about the killing of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis policeman on May 25, offering sympathy, saying the officer needs to be held accountable, as well as speaking out about the reality of racism in America, ABC reported.
“With great sympathy, I want to extend the deepest of condolences to the family and friends of George Floyd, for me and the department,” Esper said. “Racism is real in America, and we must all do our very best to recognize it, to confront it, and to eradicate it.”
Esper went on to refer to Floyd’s killing as “a horrible crime” and called for the officers involved to “be held accountable for his murder.”
“The officers on the scene that day should be held accountable for his murder,” Esper said. “It is a tragedy that we have seen repeat itself too many times.”
Secretary of Defense Esper said he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act that would allow active-duty US military forces to be used in a law enforcement capacity to help diminish the civil unrest occurring across America.
“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,” Esper said. “We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”
The previous night, Esper spoke to NBC in an exclusive interview and was asked about the US military being used in a law enforcement role to quell the protests.
“I don’t think they need to be used,” Esper said during the interview. “We have more than enough National Guard capacity out there.”
“I say this not only as Secretary of Defense but also as a former soldier and a former member of the National Guard,” Esper added.
On Monday, President Donald Trump threatened to use military forces to solve the problem of violent demonstrations, looting, and property damage as events in cities across the nations seem to be spiraling out of control.
“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,” Trump said, speaking from the Rose Garden at the White House.
But in order to use US military forces in a law enforcement role, a US president would need to invoke a law known as the “Insurrection Act of 1807.”
The law has been amended several times since it was first passed, NPR reports. The last time the Act was invoked was in a similar situation in 1992, in order to quell the Los Angeles riots after four white LAPD officers were acquitted in the beating of motorist Rodney King, an African-American man.