It seems that every time people are galvanized against injustice it comes as a surprise. As if nothing like this has ever happened before.
Daily Show host Jon Stewart recently called out Wolf Blitzer for claiming surprise at the protests and riots in Baltimore.
I can’t believe this is happening in an American city, Blitzer kept saying – despite having uttered the same response as events unfolded in Ferguson just a few months ago.
And, of course, if media’s memory is so bad it can’t even recall events within the past year, one can hardly expect the media – or the public at large – to connect current events to anything that could be considered historical.
But what’s more remarkable to me is not that people keep rising up – its that our own government keeps intervening to quell these uprisings.
In 1894, for instance, thousands of United States Marshals and some 12,000 United States Army troops were called to suppress American citizens boycotting in the Pullman Strike. Twenty-six civilians were killed.
In 1912, Lawrence, Massachusetts Mayor Michael Scanlon requested the aid of the state militia in confronting a textile strike. “A tumult is threatened,” Mayor Scanlon wrote. “A body of men are acting together and threaten by force to violate and resist the laws of the Commonwealth.”
Once called in, the militia took such brave and lawful steps as preventing striking parents from sending their children to safety in Philadelphia. Ordered to detain the children and arrest their parents, the police began clubbing both the children and their mothers while dragging them off.
Of course, with a well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the National Guard can trace its roots to 1628, when the Bay Colony – Massachusetts – received its charter, including total control over internal military and political organization.
However, the 1903 Dick Act – aptly named after Congressman Charles Dick – was really the beginning of the modern National Guard. This act resolved the issue of state vs. federal control when it came to deploying state militias. (In the war of 1812, for example, the New York militia refused to march to the aid of U.S. troops in Canada.)
The Dick Act empowered the President to deploy this state militias:
…whenever the United States is invaded, or in danger invasion, from any foreign nation or of rebellion against the authority of the Government of the United States, or the President is unable, with the other forces at his command, to execute the laws of the Union in any part thereof, it shall be lawful for the President to call forth, for a period not exceeding nine months, such number of the militia of the State or of the States or Territories or of the District of Columbia as he may deem necessary to repel such invasion, suppress such rebellion, or to enable him to execute such laws, and to issue his orders for that purpose to such officers of the militia as he may think proper.
The act was partially a response to the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which limited the power of the federal government to deploy military troops on U.S. soil. The National Guard is, importantly, an exception.
And since then National Guard has been regularly deployed to quell “rebellion against the authority of the Government.”
Governors, as primary commanders of their state’s National Guard, may also deploy these troops in “response to natural or man-made disasters or Homeland Defense missions.”
And not only as recently as Baltimore and Ferguson, the National Guard has been deployed in Los Angeles following the 1992 Rodney King beating; in Selma, Alabama; in Little Rock, Arkansas; and in several other cities.
So, it should be no surprise that people are protesting, and, unfortunately, it should be no surprise that National Guard troops are called in to stop them.
That is, after all, the history of this great country.
And the protests go on.