N.J. National Guard Deployment Draws Fire

Weinberg

In a split with other Governors in the mid-Atlantic region, Gov. Phil Murphy acquiesced to President Trump’s request for states to send units of their National Guard in response to civil unrest sparked in the nation’s capital over the weekend in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in police custody.

On June 2, the Washington Post reported President Trump had made the request on a conference call with the nation’s Governors on June 1.

According to the Washington Post, the Democratic Governors in New York, Pennsylvania, elaware and Virginia declined to do so.

The role of the nation’s military in forcibly clearing Lafayette Park of peaceful protestors on June 1, which permitted President Trump to stage a photo-op holding a Bible in front of the fire damaged St. John’s Episcopal Church, has been widely condemned by former top military commanders including his former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

In a blistering critique of the President in the Atlantic, Mattis, one the nation’s leading military minds, likened Trump’s tactics  to the Nazis.

“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,” he wrote, adding, “We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”

In Gov. Murphy’s public remarks on the national wave of demonstrations sparked by the police linked death of George Floyd, the Governor has been very supportive of the protestors.

When asked to explain why his administration opted to send troops as requested by President Trump, Murphy told reporters the deployment was “limited” and “not an open-ended commitment…explicitly to guard federal monuments.”

He added that “if there is any diversion from that, we reserve the right to reassess that presence. I have no comment on the other states’ deliberations.”

In a statement in response to a query from Insider NJ, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg wrote she understood “the pressures the governor is under in order to try to get additional federal help for our New Jersey residents. But now is not the time to acquiesce to a flawed president who wishes to militarize our own National Guard against America’s own citizens peacefully protesting.”

She continued. “I hope the next time such a request is made the governor will follow the lead of those in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York and will say no – particularly When there is no request from the local government. This was not a good decision and it was made during a very inappropriate time.”

The Washington Post said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam had declined   for several reasons. “It was not requested by the mayor of Washington, D.C.,” he said. “And with numerous challenges in Virginia — from coronavirus testing to securing protests over police violence — Northam said that “it’s in Virginia’s best interest to keep the National Guard here.”

Northam also said he “not going to send our men and women in the uniform of a very proud National Guard to Washington for a photo op,” referring to President Trump’s decision on June 1 to cross Lafayette Park to the St. John’s Episcopal Church, after Federal law enforcement and military had used force to clear  protesters from Lafayette Park, adjacent to the White House.

The prior evening, peaceful protest devolved into unrest and vandalism near the White House including an arson fire in the basement of the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, also known as the “Church of the Presidents.”

At one point on that evening, the U.S. Secret Service took the unusual step of turning out the lights that illuminate the White House and removing President Trump to an underground bunker according to the New York Times.

It was on the June 1 call with Trump and the nation’s Governors that Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper told the states’ chief executives “the sooner that you mass and dominate the battlespace, the quicker this dissipates, and we can get back to the right normal. We need to dominate the battlespace.”

Later that day, the Trump administration used a phalanx of mounted U.S. Park Police, law enforcement and National Guard to forcibly clear Lafayette Park that directly abuts the White House on thousands of peaceful protestors 15 minutes before the official 7 p.m. curfew that had been imposed by Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

In his first extended remarks on the Attorney General William Barr on June 4 said he had personally ordered the expansion of the security perimeter around Lafayette Park and that it was unrelated to the President’s decision later in the day to walk across to the church and pose with the Bible.

The Attorney General said that the push to expand the security perimeter was the result of projectiles being thrown at law enforcement and that prior to the charge by Federal forces protestors had been asked three times to move back to the new security perimeter.

“This is a Federal city,” Barr told reporters adding that the Federal government was well within legal bounds to protect the government’s “proceedings and process” and its “great monuments.”

Larry Hamm is a long time Newark activist who is running in the July 7 Democratic Primary against Senator Cory Booker.

“I am glad those Governors that refused to send their National Guard troops did so and I am saddened to learn that New Jersey sent troops there,” Hamm said. “I am unaware of the reasoning why New Jersey sent the troops and I am hopeful the Governor will reconsider and bring those troops back home.”

Hamm noted the turn of events highlighted the long-standing demand by the residents of the nation’s capital to be granted statehood status.

“Had they been given statehood like they have been demanding for sixty years they wouldn’t have been treated like some kind of territory,” he said.

Hamm recalled that as far back as 1972, the late poet Amiri Baraka brought Walter E. Fauntroy, the capital district’s Congressional non-voting delegate, to speak at the Essex County Black Political Convention.

Fauntroy, one of the nation’s leading civil right leader who worked closely with Rev. Martin Luther King and was elected to the non-voting Congressional post that had been reinstituted by Congress only after close to 100 years lapse.

Editor’s Note: Booker did not immediately respond for comment.

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