About 400 Washington, D.C., National Guard troops have been activated to help the U.S. Park Police protect local monuments and critical infrastructure amid ongoing protests against police brutality that have led to some monuments being vandalized.
The unarmed troops are in response to a request for support from the U.S. Park Police, an entity of the National Park Service, said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Craig Clapper, spokesman for the D.C. National Guard. Additional troops are on standby, he said.
"[The Park Police] has the lead, and we are in a supportive role," Clapper said. "We do not arrest or take other authoritative actions; that is the [Park Police's] role."
For the past month, protesters have taken to the streets of many U.S. cities in response to the Memorial Day death of George Floyd while he was being detained by Minneapolis police officers. The officers involved in that incident have since been fired and charged in connection to Floyd's death.
During protests in early June, National Guard troops deployed to cities across the country to help law enforcement. Their levels peaked at about 42,700, all while deployments for troops responding to the novel coronavirus pandemic continued.
As of June 17, about 4,000 National Guard troops were still activated in support of law enforcement in various locations, according to the National Guard Bureau.
Washington has seen ongoing protests, some of which have led to the vandalism of monuments, such as the World War II Memorial on the National Mall. Protesters also tried to pull down a statue of President Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square on Monday night before being dispersed by police, The Associated Press reported.
Jackson's statue stands in the same park cleared by law enforcement of peaceful protesters on June 1 to allow President Donald Trump to walk through the area for a photo at nearby St. John's Church.
On Tuesday, Trump took a hard line against anyone attempting further damage to monuments in Washington, tweeting the potential of jail time.
"I have authorized the Federal Government to arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the U.S. with up to 10 years in prison, per the Veteran's Memorial Preservation Act, or such other laws that may be pertinent," Trump tweeted. "This action is taken effective immediately, but may also be used retroactively for destruction or vandalism already caused. There will be no exceptions!"
The law that he referenced was passed in 2003 and does allow for a fine and/or up to 10 years in prison damaging or attempting to damage veterans memorials on public property.
The National Guard troops sent to protect monuments will be deployed to multiple locations, though Clapper did not list any by name. The duration for their support to Park Police has not been determined because it "depends on the updated situation," he said.