March 3, 2024

t block the streets line the streets

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Don’t block the streets; line the streets
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – Our military leaders take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution,” and for the first time maybe ever, some of them see a conflict between what President Trump is asking them to do and their allegiance to the Constitution. The conflict is playing out in the media, threatening Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s job for saying he would not invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act to use active-duty military forces to put down largely peaceful protests.
     He has been joined by retired General and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, retired Admiral and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, retired General and former commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan John Allen, and others. In the past, there have been individual officers who have spoken out (notably Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who opposed Pres. Harry Truman’s handling of the Korean War), but this is an unprecedented display of unified protest by distinguished flag officers.
          Mattis was unequivocal: “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”
          Americans have the right to assemble and to petition their government with grievances, and anybody who watched the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of a white police officer grinding his knee into the neck of a restrained and unarmed black man knows that there is plenty to protest in our criminal justice system.
          Until the four police officers in Minneapolis were duly charged, the lead officer with second-degree murder, and the others with aiding and abetting a homicide, some of the protests in dozens of cities across the country turned violent, filling television screens with images that did nothing to honor the life of George Floyd, whose death had sparked such outrage.
          In a phone call with the nation’s governors, Trump told them to “dominate . . . or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks.” Video footage on television later that same day showed National Guard troops using chemical spray to clear out peaceful demonstrators across from the White House so Trump could walk over to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo op, holding a bible aloft.
          The entire episode played badly for the president with most Americans seeing it as an empty gesture that further divides the country and raises the uneasy specter of his call for active-duty military troops to police America’s streets.
          We are now well into a second week of protests, but military reinforcements are unnecessary because the classic manner of dealing with demonstrations is wrong. Relying upon protestors to help stop looters and rock throwers while officers form human barricades is wrong. Don’t block the streets; line the streets. It doesn’t have to be a continuous line, there aren’t enough resources for that, but a couple of police officers or National Guardsman on either side of every block of every street filled with demonstrators would send the message: “We are here to protect peaceful protestors and property alike.” Police and guardsman are not there to judge what they say. They are there to guarantee their right to say it.
     Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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