Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis has condemned President Donald Trump's response to the nationwide protests sparked following the police killing of George Floyd. In a statement on Wednesday, Mattis accused the president of abusing executive authority and dividing the nation with his remarks and actions. Mattis' statement, which was published by The Atlantic, broke the near silence he has held since he resigned in December 2018 to protest the president's Syria policy.
Writing that he has "watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled," Mattis pointed to "the words 'Equal Justice Under Law,'" which he said are "carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court," in his defense of the protesters. Their message, he said, is "one that all of us should be able to get behind" and the American people "must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers." He added that "we must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution."
His remarks came amid growing outcry over the president’s response to the now global protests, which have occurred daily, people gathering in the thousands, since Floyd's May 25 killing. In response, Trump dubbed himself "your president of law and order," told governors that they "have to dominate" protesters, and announced his intent to utilize the military to combat the growing protests, which have at times turned violent. In a show of force on Monday, and all in the name of a photo op at a religious site, peaceful protesters gathered outside the White House were tear-gassed to clear a path for the president to walk.
"Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us," Mattis wrote. "We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children."
Reflecting on some 50 years ago when he "swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution," Mattis said that he never dreamed "that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens." He also criticized Defense Secretary Mark Esper's use of the word "battlespace" in reference to American cities, writing that "we must reject any thinking of our cities as a 'battlespace' that our uniformed military is called upon to 'dominate.'" Mattis wrote that "militarizing" the response to Floyd's death and the protests "erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect."