Josh Wingrove and Justin Sink, Bloomberg News |
(Bloomberg) — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff apologized for participating in Donald Trump’s controversial appearance for a photo at a historic church last week, when law enforcement forcibly cleared a peaceful protest to make way for the president.
“I should not have been there,” General Mark Milley said in a prerecorded graduation address to the National Defense University on Thursday. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”
Milley’s presence has been widely criticized for giving credence to Trump’s claim that he could use the U.S. military to quell domestic protests. He is the latest senior current or former military official to rebuke or distance themselves from the event, during which Trump briefly held up a Bible outside a damaged church before walking back to the White House nearby. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was also there, has said he wasn’t aware Trump was setting up for a photo.
“As a commissioned, uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it,” Milley said. “We who wear the cloth of our nation come from the people of our nation and we must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic.”
Trump continues to grapple with how to respond to the deaths of George Floyd and other black Americans that have sparked rolling protests against police brutality across the U.S. The president is due to travel to Dallas on Thursday and will hold a roundtable with religious leaders, law enforcement officials, and small business owners. The White House is also nearing a proposal on a police overhaul, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday.
Milley spoke at length about the need to address racism in America, and of the need for the armed forces to do more to improve inequality in their ranks.
“I am outraged by the senseless and brutal killing of George Floyd,” Milley said. “His death amplified the pain, the frustration and the fear that so many of our fellow Americans live with day-in, day-out. The protests that have ensued not only speak to his killing but also to the centuries of injustice towards African Americans. What we have seen is the long shadow of our original sin in Jamestown 401 years ago.”
He said that “peaceful protests” are a part of American freedom.
“We are still struggling with racism and we have much work to do. Racism and discrimination, structural preferences, patterns of mistreatment, unspoken and unconscious bias have no place in America and they have no place in our Armed Forces. We must, we can and we will do better,” he said.
Milley’s remarks were reported earlier by the New York Times.
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