Massachusetts elected officials on Monday castigated President Trump over his threat to send the US military to quell protests over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans killed by police, arguing that such a measure would be a dangerous overreaction.
Democratic US Representative Seth Moulton said the protests in Boston and elsewhere have largely been peaceful and lawful. And he said Americans would not be denied their right to speak out.
“We are a nation founded in dissent, birthed in freedom, committed to equality, and yet regularly reminded that we struggle to achieve all three. The President has made it clear that the fight for these Constitutional principles is a fight against himself," Moulton said in a statement. “We must therefore, with every ounce of conviction, every commitment to peace, and every glimmer of hope, join in lawful protest to overcome his tyranny.”
Trump said Monday that he supported peaceful protests and vowed justice for George Floyd, whose death Memorial Day at the hands of Minnesota police set off days of unrest and led to the arrest of one of the police officers involved. But the president also has upbraided leaders in some areas where groups of protesters have turned violent — as they did in downtown Boston Sunday.
The president criticized “a number of state and local governments” for not taking “necessary action to safeguard their residents." And he said that if governors did not call in the National Guard as he has recommended, he would consider sending in the US military himself.
Moulton said he hoped people in the military would defy such an order.
“If he chooses to abuse the military as a tyrant would do — to stifle dissent, suppress freedom, and cement inequality — then I call on all our proud young men and women in uniform, as a veteran and a patriot, to lay down your arms, uphold your oath, and join this new march for freedom,” Moulton said.
Speaking after a debate Monday night for a Democratic nomination for US Senate, both incumbent Edward J. Markey and challenger US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III said they opposed such a move by Trump.
“It would be the act of a dictator,” Markey said. “It would be un-American. It would be an attempt by the president to further foment dissension in our country, rather than bringing us together. I think it’s the act of a desperate man who continues to play to his right-wing base, and I will fight him every single step of the way to make sure that he cannot militarize his campaign in order to try to secure votes for his re-election.”
Kennedy also criticized the police use of tear gas on protesters in Washington shortly before Trump’s remarks on Monday evening.
“This is an individual that cannot seem to comprehend in any sense of the word the moment that we are in,” Kennedy said.
“What is taking place in cities across our country, including in Boston, is a scream of anguish and a desire for recognition and a hearing," Kennedy added. "Drafting a military response to somehow crush that anguish is not going to be successful at creating the dialogue that we need to create.”
On Twitter, US Representative Katherine Clark also framed the issue as an existential one for the nation.
″The people want justice for all. The president wants power over us all," the Melrose Democrat wrote. “This isn’t the leader of the free or the brave. This isn’t our story or our truth.”
State Attorney General Maura Healey, also a Democrat, said she was “deeply disturbed by the President’s actions tonight.”
“At a time when we need empathy and unity, his rhetoric will only serve to divide people and inflame tensions,” Healey said in a statement. "Let me be clear: there is no place for the United States military on our streets. Now is a time to come together, listen to one another, and do the hard work of building a more equitable Massachusetts.”
The reaction was similar from Rhode Island. Democratic US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said Trump’s comments “did the opposite of calm an anxious and upset nation,”
“He fanned the flames of violence with divisive rhetoric and thinly veiled threats,” Whitehouse said. “My heart is with everyone concerned about America tonight.”
Matt Stout, Victoria McGrane, Jess Bidgood, and Liz Goodwin of the Globe staff contributed to this report.