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District of Columbia National Guard soldiers and airmen assist local authorities at a barricade site in Washington, D.C., on May 31, 2020.
District of Columbia National Guard soldiers and airmen assist local authorities at a barricade site in Washington, D.C., on May 31, 2020. (Tyrone Williams/U.S. Army National Guard)

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Thursday ordered an evaluation of the National Guard’s role during nationwide protests following the killing by police of a black man in Minneapolis.

The after-action report will focus on a wide range of subjects, including training, equipping, organizing, manning, deployment, and employment of National Guard forces, the Defense Department said in a statement Thursday.

National Guard forces were activated in more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia in the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd, an African American, in Minneapolis on May 25. He died after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, a scene captured on video that went viral and sparked outrage, protests and, at times, riots and looting.

Esper tasked Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy with completing the report by the end of July.

“In recent weeks, the National Guard has performed professionally and capably in support of law enforcement in cities across the United States,” Esper said in the statement. “I have the greatest respect for, and am deeply proud of, our Soldiers and Airmen who served during this period to ensure that peaceful protestors could execute their First Amendment rights, and that they and others would not suffer from violence against themselves and their property.”

National Guard troops joined officers from other law enforcement agencies in forcefully pushing back protesters gathered outside the White House June 1 to clear the way for President Donald Trump to walk to a nearby church for a photo op. Police used flash bangs and tossed tear gas into the crowd.

Trump was accompanied across the street by Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was dressed in Army fatigues, among other White House officials.

The assault on the generally peaceful group of demonstrators provoked national outrage, and the escort by Esper and Milley was viewed by some as their tacit approval of using overwhelming military force on public demonstrations.

Milley, in a prerecorded video addressing graduates of National Defense University on Thursday, said he regretted being present.

“I should not have been there,” he said.

NBC News reported Thursday that Milley had discussed resigning over the matter.

olson.wyatt@stripes.com Twitter: @WyattWOlson

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