Commentary: A Test of Leadership

At-Large Candidate and Veteran Says Citizenship Sometimes Requires Disobedience

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A line of uniformed personnel face protesters in Lafayette Park, June 1, 2020. Photo: Andrew Lightman

As a veteran, I was deeply disturbed and angered at the sight of federal law enforcement officials and military forcibly removing peaceful protesters freely exercising their right of free speech in Lafayette Square so Trump could hold a photo op. Ending the protest in such a violent way is an act more associated with a dictatorial regime than the President of the United States. Never before have we seen a president with such callous disregard for the rights of American citizens. Our military should not be used as a force against American citizens with tactics better associated with a battlefield than peaceful demonstrators.

Since our founding, a hallmark of our country has been dissent and peaceful protests. From the fight for civil rights to protests against Vietnam, for generations, peaceful protests have challenged our elected leaders and the public to live up to the ideals of our founding, that all people are created equal and endowed with rights and privileges, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

For this President to use military forces as his own personal chess pieces is not only wrong but shows he has no understanding of the purpose of the military and has complete disrespect for the military. This is understandable from a person that continues to demean veterans, as he did the late Senator McCain, and for someone that used his privilege to keep from serving.  He is a weak leader and is beneath the dignity of the presidency, military and our country. For a military general such as General [Mark] Miley to obey unlawful orders is absolutely unprecedented. As a veteran, I know we were strictly taught not to obey unlawful orders, but yet the one person that is over all military service members did just this.

We know that the ‘inalienable rights’ of the Declaration of Independence are not mere hollow words because of the service of thousands of fighting men and women who work to secure our freedom and keep our nation safe, and the work of generations of protestors who have mobilized to ensure our leaders live up to granting the full measure of American rights and privileges to all, particularly the centuries of injustice our country has placed on African-Americans.

Following orders is no defense to crimes against humanity, as it should not be for firing into a crowd of unarmed and peaceful protestors. Every military officer swears an oath upon commissioning. That oath is not to blindly obey all orders. It is to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, on behalf of the American people.”

For General Miley to stand by and watch as military troops treated protesters as they did with violence shows a total lack of leadership ability and General Milley was right to apologize. Unlike troops in authoritarian regimes, our military is obliged to disregard unlawful orders or face serious consequences. General Miley has faced no consequences because this president has continued to support leaders that are more loyal to him than to this country. Generally Miley’s decision will put a stain on his honorable 39 years of service.

Our city and country are desperate for leaders who will stand up to the establishment and willfully disobey orders that threaten the future and freedom of our republic. Our military leadership should be better than this. Disobeying unlawful orders is no crime but the price of citizenship.

Rick T. Murphree is a U.S. Army Veteran, businessman and professor running for the At-Large Independent seat on the DC Council. For more information or to contact him, visit www.murphreedc.com