A person holds a "Black Lives Matter" sign as as a heavy cloud of tear gas and smoke rises after being deployed by Seattle police as protesters rally against police brutality and the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Seattle, Washington, U.S. June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson
White House responds to protests with rubber bullets
02:47 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

More than 280 former national security officials on Friday criticized President Donald Trump’s aggressive approach to peaceful protesters, and expressed concern about the presence of US military assets at demonstrations across the country.

The former officials described their concerns over the “misuse of the military for political purposes” on protesters in Washington in a letter titled “The Strength of America’s Apolitical Military.”

“There is no role for the U.S. military in dealing with American citizens exercising their constitutional right to free speech, however uncomfortable that speech may be for some,” the letter stated.

Trump has called protesters – who have taken to the streets after the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis – “thugs” and shared a letter calling them “terrorists.”

The former officials wrote that “falsely seeking to divide Americans into those who support ‘law and order’ and those who do not will not end the demonstrations.” They argue that a political process is needed to heal the country.

“The deployment of military forces against American citizens exercising their constitutional rights will not heal the divides in our society,” they wrote.

Their voice joins a growing revolt coming from top American ex-military brass and former presidents over Trump’s response to the protests over racial tension in the country. On Wednesday, Trump’s former Defense Secretary James Mattis told Americans they must come together without the President.

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try,” said Mattis, “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.”

Trump’s current secretary of defense, Mark Esper, has also pushed back against the President’s threat to use active-duty troops to quell the large-scale protests if violence continues.

Some pockets of protesters have been violent, but the former officials – including dozens of ambassadors – express support for the fundamental importance of “legitimate protests.”

“As former American ambassadors, generals and admirals, and senior federal officials, we are alarmed by calls from the President and some political leaders for the use of U.S. military personnel to end legitimate protests in cities and towns across America,” they wrote, saying that during their time in government they had called out authoritarian regimes “that deployed their military against their own citizens.”

Standing up for human rights is intrinsic to the American identity, they argue.

“We urge the President and state and local governments to focus their efforts on uniting the country and supporting reforms to ensure equal police treatment of all citizens, regardless of race or ethnicity,” the letter said.