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Ex-Joint Chiefs chairman condemns Trump's response to protesters: 'Our fellow citizens are not the enemy'

Ex-Joint Chiefs chairman condemns Trump's response to protesters: 'Our fellow citizens are not the enemy'

Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, condemned the use of tear gas on peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Park Monday ahead of remarks by President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to sign executive order aimed at increasing voting access Albany Times Union editorial board calls for Cuomo's resignation Advocates warn restrictive voting bills could end Georgia's record turnout MORE on the protests over the death of George Floyd.

“Whatever Trump's goal in conducting his visit, he laid bare his disdain for the rights of peaceful protest in this country, gave succor to the leaders of other countries who take comfort in our domestic strife, and risked further politicizing the men and women of our armed forces,” Mullen wrote in a column for The Atlantic.

“While no one should ever condone the violence, vandalism, and looting that has exploded across our city streets, neither should anyone lose sight of the larger and deeper concerns about institutional racism that have ignited this rage,” Mullen added.

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“As a white man, I cannot claim perfect understanding of the fear and anger that African Americans feel today. But as someone who has been around for a while, I know enough—and I've seen enough—to understand that those feelings are real and that they are all too painfully founded,” he wrote.

Mullen warned that deployment of the military against protesters or invoking the Insurrection Act would only worsen matters, expressing concern about Secretary of Defense Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Former Trump Defense chief Esper to join McCain Institute CORRECTED: Overnight Defense: COVID-19 stymies effort to study sexual assault at military academies | Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi report MORE’s description of the protests as “battlespaces.”

“We must ensure that African Americans—indeed, all Americans—are given the same rights under the Constitution, the same justice under the law, and the same consideration we give to members of our own family,” he wrote. “Our fellow citizens are not the enemy, and must never become so.”

The peaceful demonstrations were dispersed about 20 minutes before a 7 p.m. curfew Monday. The U.S. Park Police has claimed only smoke grenades were fired and that demonstrators threw bottles and bricks at police, contradicting reports from the scene, including those of The Hill’s reporter on the ground.