A member of California National Guard stands outside the City Hall on May 31 in Los Angeles.

A member of California National Guard stands outside the City Hall on May 31 in Los Angeles. Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP

What the National Guard Is Doing During the Protests

Guardsmen appear to have been involved in at least one fatal clash.

Updated: 11:15 a.m.

The National Guard has been called up in 15 states as well as the District of Columbia to deal with civil unrest in the wake of a deadly police encounter in Minnesota. There’s been some question about what exactly they’ll be doing, with President Trump suggesting that Guard units have been “shutting down” protests.

National Guard leaders who spoke to reporters on Sunday said that units would be deployed primarily to free up local police to deal with protestors or civil unrest. That could include guarding hospitals or infrastructure that are normally protected by local police. It might mean guarding city municipal buildings that rioters or looters have targeted, such as the Denver City and County Building in Colorado, attacked on Friday. Guardsmen might also bring detained people to booking sites run by local law enforcement or departments of corrections, they said.

But in Louisville, Kentucky, Guardsmen were sent with local police to clear a crowd in a parking lot, and one person was shot dead. In an early-morning statement, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad said that about 12:15 a.m., “Officers and soldiers began to clear the lot and at some point were shot at. Both LMPD and National Guard members returned fire, we have one man dead at scene.” Officials have not released information about the shooter or the victim, NBC News reported.

On Sunday, the Guard leaders were asked about a video circulating on the web showing what appears to be a National Guard Humvee driving down a street in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis. The vehicle is followed by a group of local law enforcement who begin to fire at people standing on their porches. Without commenting on the vehicle, Army Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, the Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard, told reporters, “It is very easy for me to look at video and tell you that is not a Minnesota National Guardsman. The uniform worn by that person is not worn by the U.S. National Guard.”

The officials, citing operational concerns, declined to discuss when Guardsmen are allowed to use force or what force might be used to support local law enforcement. They said that Guardsmen have not had to use any force yet this weekend.

“This is categorically a mission I don’t like doing. Of all the missions I’m asked to do, this is one on the bottom of my list,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael A. Loh, Adjutant General of the Colorado National Guard. “The situation, circumstances called for it.” 

Guardsmen are also helping states respond to the pandemic by standing up medical facilities, and dealing with COVID-19 patients in places like homeless shelters.