speaking out

Former Joint Chiefs chairman 'sickened' by actions against protesters: 'Our fellow citizens are not the enemy'

June 2, 2020
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Mike Mullen, the 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a retired Navy admiral, says he was so "sickened" by what he saw transpire on the streets of Washington, D.C., on Monday evening that he had to speak out.

"Our fellow citizens are not the enemy, and must never become so," Mullen wrote in The Atlantic. "This is not the time for stunts. This is the time for leadership."

Watching security personnel "forcibly and violently" clear out peaceful protesters so President Trump could stand outside of St. John's Church left Mullen aghast, he wrote. Whatever Trump's goal was, "he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces. There was little good in the stunt."

No one should condone violence, vandalism, or looting, Mullen wrote, but it's imperative that people also don't "lose sight of the larger and deeper concerns over institutional racism that have ignited this rage." Citizens must unite to "address head-on the issue of police brutality and sustained injustices against the African American community," he said, as well as "support and defend the right — indeed, the solemn obligation — to peacefully assemble and to be heard."

While Mullen said he's "confident in the professionalism of our men and women in uniform," knowing they "will obey lawful orders," he is "less confident in the soundness of the orders they will be given by this commander in chief, and I am not convinced that the conditions on our streets, as bad as they are, have risen to the level that justifies a heavy reliance on military troops."

Mullen was not the only former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to condemn Monday's incident. His successor, retired Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, tweeted that "America is not a battleground. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy." Catherine Garcia