‘Optics matter.’ National Guard deployments amid unrest have a long and controversial history

(PBS Newshour | June 9, 2020) When major protests erupted in dozens of cities around the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death, many states responded by calling on the National Guard to police demonstrations and to enforce curfews.

“They are members of the military, not law enforcement.”

In all, more than 30 states activated about 32,000 National Guard members to supplement local police efforts to manage the unrest, which was largely lawful, but in some cases resulted in the destruction of businesses and instances of violence.

A number of high profile clashes between law enforcement and protesters have prompted criticism about what many have decried as excessive use of force — the very issue that gave rise to the demonstrations.

For decades, the guard has served the dual function of operating both domestically, in a number of capacities, and internationally. For instance, about 60,000 additional guard members are assisting this year with public safety efforts amid the coronavirus pandemic and natural disaster preparation and response as tropical storm season gets underway. But in light of recent confrontations, many are questioning the wisdom of using trained military to monitor American civilians protesting on American soil …

… The National Guard is trained to help domestically in a variety of capacities, said William Banks, a professor emeritus at Syracuse University College of Law. “That said, they are members of the military, not law enforcement, so they are largely trained to supplement military jobs,” Banks said …

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