In the wake of national protests against police brutality, Gov. Charlie Baker ordered the activation of the Massachusetts National Guard on Thursday.
Towns and cities must request the troops for them to deploy, Jake Wark, spokesperson for the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, wrote in an email.
Wark wrote that while the order specifies the state would deploy up to 1,000 military personnel, the full number would not be able to be deployed at any one time.
“The Massachusetts National Guard’s diverse and highly-trained members live and work in communities across the Commonwealth,” Wark wrote.
David Harris, managing director of the Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute For Race and Justice, said the order is an insult to those who march and protest racial injustice.
“Here in Massachusetts, we have a history of standing up for what’s right,” Harris said. “We have harbored abolitionists, we have harbored rights activists … for the government to respond in this way and, in some sense, align us with forces of reaction, is disappointing.”
Protest, Harris said, is one of the most powerful tools a citizen has in this country.
“Access to political voice is so limited in this country that many of us, the only form of expression we have is protest,” Harris said. “To protest is to demand one’s membership in this body politic.”
Harris said he believes there is no justification for Baker’s activation order.
New England First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Justin Silverman said that while MANG’s activation may worry protesters, the major issue will be how the National Guard conducts itself.
“Will they be largely out of sight and only called in if there is violence or destruction of property that warrants their presence?” Silverman said. “These are the questions that I would look to.”
Intimidation and the possible use of force could threaten protesters’ First Amendment rights, Silverman said.
“[Protesters] need to stay safe and really need to take into account that, anytime you have a law enforcement presence,” Silverman said, “that there is at least the potential for protesters to get hurt or to have their rights violated in some way.”
Chris Fernandez, 43, of Roxbury attended the Solidarity Against Hate protest in Justice Edward O. Gourdin Veterans Memorial Park Friday. He said the order is necessary to deal with possible violence.
“To be honest with you, I don’t mind,” Fernandez said. “If it’s something that you got to do, I’m all for it.”
He added that the presence of MANG in Boston would not affect his decision to protest.
“It’s not about them. It’s about what’s going on,” Fernandez said. “People need to come out more and voice their opinion.”
Ellen Frith, a 72-year-old social justice minister living in North Cambridge, said at Friday’s protest that she believes the order is an intimidation tactic.
“Why isn’t [Baker] with us? Why isn’t he addressing us?” Frith said. “Why isn’t he at the rally talking with us about what’s going on, instead of sending the National Guard? And then we find out that we’re going to get gassed.”
Frith said what matters is the death of Breonna Taylor, not the actions or orders of Baker.
“He has to unite this state, not be putting roadblocks, not be antagonizing people, not putting fear in people,” Firth said. “That’s not what a leader does.”
Gov Baker has a job to do. Doing his best to keep everyone SAFE. Peaceful protesting yes. Rioting and destruction NO.