Rep. Lewis to Obama: Declare martial law

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Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) on Thursday called on President Obama to use executive authority and declare martial law in Ferguson, Mo., where protesters have clashed with police after the shooting of an unarmed black teenager.

“My own feeling is right now is President Obama should use the authority of his office to declare martial law,” Lewis said on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” “Federalize that Missouri National Guard to protect people as they protest,” 

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Lewis, an icon of the 1960s civil rights movement, said it is “unreal” to see what the police are doing in Ferguson.

“People have a right to protest. They have a right to dissent. They have a right to march in an orderly peaceful nonviolent fashion,” he said. “Ferguson, Mo., is not the Congo, not China, not Russia. We can do better.”

The Ferguson Police Department is facing criticism after officers armed with military-grade weaponry on Wednesday night cracked down on protesters. The police fired tear gas into crowds and also briefly arrested two reporters from the Huffington Post and Washington Post during the crackdown.

Lewis said the police force operating there in military garb is only further inciting protests, and said the state’s National Guard should be ordered in.

Asked if Obama could unilaterally declare martial law without permission from Gov. Jay Nixon (D-Mo.), Lewis cited President Kennedy’s use of national guardsmen in the 1960s.

In 1961, Lewis said Kennedy federalized the National Guard in Montgomery, Ala., to protect the public during unrest amid the civil rights movement.

“And if it hadn't been for the National Guard, ordered there by President Kennedy, and the U.S. marshals, some of us would have died there that night,” Lewis said.

President Obama spoke about the situation just after Lewis’s interview and urged for “peace and calm” in Ferguson.

Obama made no mention about sending in National Guard troops, but did say he spoke with Gov. Nixon Thursday afternoon. Nixon said he plans to remove the local police force.

Lewis’s colleagues from the Congressional Black Caucus also released an updated statement about the violence Thursday in which one lawmaker said the current police crackdown already amounted to martial law. 

“A young, unarmed man was shot by a police officer. A small town is under what is essentially martial law. Tear gas and rubber bullets are being used against everyday citizens,” said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.). Serious and sweeping civil rights violations may have taken place in Ferguson, Missouri.” 

Conyers said removing the St. Louis County Police Department from Ferguson is “an important step towards restoring peace and allowing for an independent, thorough investigation to take place.

“The people of Ferguson deserve nothing less,” he said.