News / USA

National Guard Deployments for Civil Unrest Uncommon in US

National Guard troops arrive at a mall complex that serves as staging area for the police in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 18, 2014.
National Guard troops arrive at a mall complex that serves as staging area for the police in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 18, 2014.

With violent protests continuing in Ferguson, Missouri, nine days after an unarmed black man was shot by a white police officer, the state’s governor on Monday called in the National Guard.

Governor Jay Nixon’s decision came as an unofficial autopsy report released by the family of Michael Brown found that Brown, 18, had at least six bullet wounds from the August 9 incident.

That shooting resulted in days of riots, looting and clashes with law enforcement, violence that prompted two nights of curfews over the weekend and widespread criticism of the police response. Police officials have said the officer, Darrell Wilson, shot Brown during a nighttime scuffle.

While Nixon’s decision indicated concern that violence was spiraling out of hand, National Guard deployments for civil unrest in the U.S. are uncommon.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many troops would be sent, nor what their exact duties would be, though Nixon did say that some would be protecting a police command center.

In the United States, around 460,000 so-called “citizen soldiers” serve in National Guard units across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, according to the National Guard Association of the United States, a lobbying group.  Around two-thirds serve in the Army National Guard; about 106,000 in the Air National Guard.

FILE - After Hurricane Katrina, an armed National Guard soldier patrols a Red Cross shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Oct. 4, 2005.FILE - After Hurricane Katrina, an armed National Guard soldier patrols a Red Cross shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Oct. 4, 2005.
x
FILE - After Hurricane Katrina, an armed National Guard soldier patrols a Red Cross shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Oct. 4, 2005.
FILE - After Hurricane Katrina, an armed National Guard soldier patrols a Red Cross shelter in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Oct. 4, 2005.

Typically, guard assignments range from supporting law enforcement to, more commonly, helping clean up after natural disasters. 

In 2005, Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states called in National Guard units to help in the aftermath of deadly Hurricane Katrina and its flooding and mayhem. In drought-stricken Western states, they’re battling wildfires. In flood-prone areas, they fill and stack sandbags.  

Earlier this month, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called up about 1,000 National Guard troops to patrol the border with Mexico amid an influx of young child migrants.

National Guard units, however, are increasingly called up for national defense, as well. Several states’ Air National Guard wings helped patrol U.S. air space in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

More than half of all Guard members have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan – sometimes multiple times – as well as other foreign locations, according to John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association. 

“What the National Guard offers governors – in the case of Ferguson or fighting wildfires – is units of disciplined, uniformed personnel,” he said. They “can be quickly trained to do things, to carry out missions.”

There are federal law enforcement agencies: the FBI being the best known example. But, as Steven P. Bucci, a retired Army colonel who is currently an analyst at the Heritage Foundation, pointed out, the United States, unlike most countries around the world, doesn’t have a national police force.

Instead, he said, “we’ve given that power through our constitution to the governors and the mayors, all the way down.”

Federal mobilizations

For now, the presence of the Missouri’s National Guard in Ferguson is strictly a state affair, authorized by the governor under state laws. That conceivably could change if the situation were to worsen.

“The use of the National Guard, even in state status, to quell civil disturbances is usually a last resort and not very common,” Charles J. Dunlap, a Duke University law professor, told VOA in an email interview.

On Monday, President Barack Obama said that his attorney general, Eric Holder, would be traveling to the St. Louis suburb to meet with federal investigators looking into the shooting.

One extreme possibility—something, no one appears to be discussing at this moment— would be for the federal government to step in and take control of the guard. 

At least one 19th century federal law provides the legal basis for that, along with the 1952 Armed Forces Reserve Act, which, among other things, enables the federal government to supersede a governor’s authority and take control of the National Guard for a specific mission – a relatively rare act.

Since World War II, presidents have “federalized” National Guard for domestic law enforcement missions 10 times. The most recent example came in 1992 when the acquittal of four white police officers, charged with brutally beating a black man in Los Angeles, California, sparked widespread riots and looting.

The decision to call in the Guard for law enforcement— state or federal—is fraught, given the constitutional and statutory restrictions that restrict the U.S. armed forces from having domestic police duties.

“Although the U.S. military is generally prohibited from exercising domestic law enforcement authority, a state National Guard unit may do so unless it’s called to federal service,” said Dunlap, who is also a retired Air Force major and former deputy judge advocate general. State law defines its exact law enforcement authority.

Here, from the National Guard Bureau, are some notable examples of National Guard deployments in U.S. history that were later “federalized”:

1957-58 – Little Rock, Arkansas  President Dwight D. Eisenhower orders the takeover of National Guard troops that had been called up by Gov. Orval Faubus to keep black students from attending Little Rock’s all-white Central High School. Eisenhower also deployed U.S. marshals and paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division to assist in maintaining order after rioting broke out.

1962 – Oxford, Mississippi  After the University of Mississippi in Oxford flouts a court order and bars a black student from attending classes there, President John F. Kennedy federalizes Mississippi National Guard troops to prevent violence toward the student, James Meredith, and rioting in the broader community.

1963 – Tuscaloosa, Alabama  A year after Oxford, Alabama Gov. George Wallace physically blocks black students from entering a University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa building, despite a court order. That prompts President Kennedy to take control of the Alabama National Guard to enforce the court order allowing black students to enroll.

1965 – Selma, Alabama  President Lyndon B. Johnston federalizes the Alabama National Guard to protect peaceful protesters marching from Selma to Montgomery to protest racial discrimination. At an earlier march, protesters were brutally beaten by state police and deputies.

1968 – Detroit, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois; Washington, D.C.   Johnson orders deployment of thousands of National Guard units from those two states, and the federal district, to patrol streets and prevent rioting that erupted after the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

1970 – New York City   After thousands of postal workers walked off the job, President Richard M. Nixon orders thousands of National Guard troops to help deliver the mail in the city’s financial district. Others sort mail and keep picketers from interfering.

1992 – Los Angeles, California  Rioting erupts in Los Angeles after four white police officers are acquitted in the brutal beating of Rodney King, a black man. President George H. W. Bush calls up more than 10,000 California National Guard troops to help quell the unrest.

VOA's Mike Eckel contributed to this report.

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Bob Venn from: Lexington, KY
August 19, 2014 11:57 AM
You forgot the most notorious of all National Guard Deployments:
Kent State, May 4th, 1970
4 Students killed (murdered)
9 Students wounded
Many of the students were just walking to class and not involved in the protest. Sad Day for America
In Response

by: Kimmyb from: philly
August 27, 2014 4:09 AM
I live in a major city and there is a reason the national guards are called in because these people are making it an excuse to fight, cause lots of damage and to steal over something they know deep down in their hearts they kid was Guilty of what they said he did. Once you get Al Sharpton out there is just about happens all the time. The truth is those kids going after the police if given the chance they will hurt one of the officers and we need extra help because ppl love a reason to fight no matter hoe little or big it may seem..They will not turn on you for no reason.

by: meanbill from: USA
August 19, 2014 8:47 AM
Barack Obama warned about the black "Quite Riots" on June 05, 2007..... when he warned that prior black riots just didn't erupt overnight, and that black "Quiet Riots" have been building from California all across America, and these black "Quiet Riots" take place everyday.... Barack Obama "quote" said;.. "The Bush administration had done nothing to defuse a "Quiet Riot" among blacks.".... (NOW?).... What has US President Barack Obama done in his 51/2 years as President to defuse the "Quiet Riot" among blacks?...... (Hypocritical isn't he?).

Democrat President Obama, and the Democrat Missouri governor Nixon criticized the local police handling of the black "Quiet Riot" that erupted into a full blown riot, and Democrat governor Nixon sent in the State police under captain Johnson, who tried to pacify the black rioters by disparaging the policeman, the local police, whites, and everybody but the black rioters.... and when he failed to stop the black riots, Obama and Nixon agreed the National Guard was needed to quell the black riots, that still continue on.... but Obama, Nixon, Johnson, Sharpton, Jackson, Holder, and other black leaders (didn't blame the black rioters, but instead blamed the police and everybody else) and just poured a can of gasoline on the black "Quiet Riots" fires, that turned into violent black riots..... (the more you feed the beast, the more the beast wants, and the larger the beast grows, until you destroy it?).

by: traffikator from: USA
August 19, 2014 3:02 AM
I hate teh Republicans and practicaly everytihing they stand for. But Furgusson and Bundy made me rethink. Americas should be armed. particularly blacks and hispanics. Armed to teeth like those wh faced down federal police with guns aimed at them. Not one situation where white people faced policed officers with guns were they ever arrested or killed. Almost daily blacks are killed unarmed. If they were all armed like those at the Bundy Ranch, this situation may begin to change. If we had all those black people in Furgusson armed with snipers watching over the street, I bet daren would think teice before approaching two unarmed teens let alone murder the child in cold blood. Blacks are the only only ones calling for peace when faced with oppression by law enforcement. White people cal for armed resistance when law enforcement attempt legal enforcement. What a contrast.

by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
August 18, 2014 10:39 PM
Why minorities (special Black people) living in civilized world have got to fight all the time for their God given rights?. How come the principal of "rule of law" do not function when citizens of African background needed it most? In this modern world why racism against black people is flourishing among the most educated people in USA?

by: Steve from: Maryland
August 18, 2014 9:23 PM
You forgot about Virginia Beach 1989. I was there...!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs