Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he does not support invoking Insurrection Act to deploy active-duty forces to quell civil unrest, sparked by custodial killing of black American George Floyd.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper visits DC National Guard military officers guarding the White House amid nationwide unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Washington, US, June 1, 2020.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper visits DC National Guard military officers guarding the White House amid nationwide unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Washington, US, June 1, 2020. (Reuters)

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday he opposes use of the Insurrection Act, which would allow President Donald Trump to use active-duty military forces for law enforcement duties in containing street protests.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Esper said active-duty troops in a law enforcement role should be used in the United States "only in the most urgent and dire of situations," adding, "We are not in one of those situations now."

Use of the Insurrection Act has been discussed as Trump has talked about using the military to quell violent protests in US cities. 

Esper has authorised the movement of several active-duty Army units to military bases just outside the nation's capital, but they have not been called to action.

In his Pentagon remarks, Esper strongly criticised the actions of the Minneapolis police, in whose custody George Floyd died after an officer held his knee to Floyd's neck for several minutes. 

Esper called the act "murder" and "a horrible crime."

Regrets using 'battlespace' word 

President  Trump on Wednesday took credit for a massive deployment of National Guard troops and federal law enforcement officers to the nation's capital, saying it offered a model to states on how to quell protests nationwide.

Esper said he regretted using the word "battlespace" to describe areas gripped by protest.

Esper also said he was unaware that he would be part of President Trump's politically-charged photo opportunity on Monday when law enforcement forcibly cleared a park outside the White House of peaceful protesters so the president could take a picture in front of a church holding a Bible.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies