Low-flying military helicopters were used to disperse crowds of people protesting the police killing of George Floyd in the nation's capital Monday night. As people gathered in the thousands outside the White House and in other neighborhoods across Washington, D.C., dozens of social media users reported that helicopters with U.S. Army markings, including a Black Hawk army helicopter, flew at roof level, using their downdrafts to create intense winds and gusts of dust in an attempt to thin crowds.
About 10 minutes later, here it goes again. pic.twitter.com/3yoxOAu0uw— Zolan Kanno-Youngs (@KannoYoungs) June 2, 2020
An aircraft tracker showed that two Lakota helicopters flew between 100 and 300 feet above the streets in what many described as a "show of force," something that is typically seen in combat zones "to scare away insurgents." According to New York Times reporter Zolan Kanno-Youngs, the helicopters were "positioned just above rooftops" and sent "gusts of dust into the air." The strong winds caused "a part of a tree fell, nearly hitting passerbys" and "some storefronts were shattered."
The helicopters marked just the latest show of force as protests surrounding Floyd's death grow in momentum and size. Earlier in the day, a large group of peaceful protesters were chemical sprayed, shot with rubber bullets, and charged at outside of the White House so that President Donald Trump could walk to the nearby St. John's Episcopal Church for a photo-op in which he held a Bible. Just moments prior to the photo-op, which has been widely criticized, the president announced during a speech at the White House Rose Garden that he was "mobilizing" federal resources, including civilian and military, to "stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson. And to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights."
The use of such force and military units against protesters has been largely condemned. On Twitter, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote that "America is not a battleground" and that "our fellow citizens are not the enemy." Meanwhile, Adm. Mike Mullen, another former chairman, wrote in The Atlantic that the president "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," when a path was so violently cleared through peaceful protesters.
In response to the events that unfolded Monday night, the District of Columbia National Guard has asked for an investigation into the use of helicopters to disperse crowds. In a statement to The Hill, Air Force Lt. Col. Brooke Davis, spokeswoman for the D.C. National Guard, said that "our highest priority is the safety of our Citizen Soldiers and Airmen who support civil authorities as they perform their duties."