Members of the Harvard Law School faculty published an “open letter” to President Trump earlier this week blasting his response to the George Floyd “protests.”
According to The Crimson, the letter was signed by over 160 individuals including former Obama official Samantha Power who, it was recently revealed, didn’t exactly tell the truth about Mr. Trump and Russian collusion.
The letter rips Trump’s threat to call in the US military to help quell disturbances, as well as the wording of a May 29 tweet in which the president wrote “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
The faculty argue Trump’s tweet “legitim[izes] lawless action by public officials” and “invites other individuals to take similarly destructive action.”
Law School professor Christine A. Desan, who worked on drafting the letter, said Trump’s tweet signified a commitment to using violence against citizens involved in the protest. She said she finds the message problematic since Trump speaks as the Commander in Chief of the Army.
“We don’t under our Constitution live in a society where even if somebody is stealing something they get shot,” she said. “To have him pledge to use excessive state violence against people indiscriminately is really unlawful — deeply unlawful.” …
The faculty wrote in the letter that the military holds a responsibility to protect civil order — a principle Trump would violate by using federal authority against protestors.
“There are rules for the deployment of the military,” [Professor Kenneth] Mack said. “We don’t shoot people for protesting.”
Desan argued that by sending in the military, the President would exceed the authority of his office and breach his responsibility to minimize the force and use of the army.
Note that the faculty and Crimson writer Kelsey Griffin are careful to use the terms “protesters” and “protests.” “Riot” and “rioting” aren’t found in the article, nor is “looting” (except regarding Trump’s tweet) or “assault.”
Regarding the authority Trump has in using the military in situations many US cities now face, it is found in the Insurrection Act. Before invocation of the IA, however, Trump “must first issue a proclamation ordering the insurgents to disperse within a limited time.”
Section 252 of the IA notes a president does not need permission from state legislators or governors to send in troops. The last time a president used the Insurrection Act was in 1992 during the post-Rodney King verdict Los Angeles riots.
As for Professors Desan and Mack, they are no strangers to controversy: In 2016, the blog Royall Asses detailed how they had urged campus race protesters to “take advantage of the ‘crisis’ they’d created,” and “to play the race card to inflame passions.”
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