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Joint Chiefs chairman walks DC streets amid protests: We protect freedom of speech

Joint Chiefs chairman walks DC streets amid protests: We protect freedom of speech
© Greg Nash

Army Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense: Defense bill moving forward despite Trump veto threat over tech fight | Government funding bill hits snag | Top general talks Afghanistan, Pentagon budget Top US general: Pentagon needs 'reality check' for 2021 military spending Joint Chiefs chair: US has 'achieved a modicum of success' in Afghanistan MORE, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, surveyed the National Guard's curfew enforcement in Washington, D.C., Monday evening, saying the military was there to protect freedom of speech.

The presence of such a high-ranking military commander on the streets of the nation's capital to oversee protests against police brutality prompted questions from reporters who were also on the ground as authorities attempted to break up demonstrations that were occurring after a curfew was imposed.

"Freedom of speech, that's perfectly fine. We support that. We took an oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America to do that, to protect everyone's rights. That's what we do," Milley told reporters. "We've got the D.C. National Guard out here and I'm just checking their...seeing how well they're doing, that's all."

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Milley's comments came as protesters clashed with police and Secret Service agents for another night in response to last week's killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, while in police custody in Minneapolis.

The general's presence came just a few hours after a chaotic scene near the White House where military personnel fired tear gas into a crowd of demonstrators shortly before President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE walked across the street to St. John’s Church, which had been set on fire by vandals the night before.

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Tensions between Trump and local officials were already high leading up to Monday night.

Trump criticized D.C. Mayor Muriel BowserMuriel BowserDemocratic figures accused of hypocrisy on COVID-19 precautions Mayors pessimistic about coronavirus recovery: survey Capitol physician advises lawmakers against attending dinners, receptions during COVID-19 spike MORE's (D) response to the demonstrations in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, and alleged that she had prevented D.C. police officers from assisting the Secret Service in confronting violent protesters.

“Great job last night at the White House by the U.S. @SecretService. They were not only totally professional, but very cool,” Trump tweeted Saturday. “On the bad side, the D.C. Mayor, @MurielBowser, who is always looking for money & help, wouldn’t let the D.C. Police get involved. ‘Not their job.’”

Bowser responded by refuting Trump's claims and declaring police would protect all city residents during the demonstrations.

“My police department will always protect DC and all who are in it whether I agree with them (such as those exercising their First Amendment Right) or those I don’t (namely, @realdonaldtrump),” Bowser tweeted. “While he hides behind his fence afraid/alone, I stand w/ people peacefully exercising their First Amendment Right after the murder of #GeorgeFloyd & hundreds of years of institutional racism.”

“I call upon our city and our nation to exercise great restraint even while this President continues to try to divide us. Our power is in peace, in our voices and ultimately at the ballot box in November,” she added.