Trump: No change at bases named for Confederate officers
WASHINGTON-The Associated Press
President Donald Trump on June 10 said his administration will "not even consider'' changing the name of any of the 10 Army bases that are named for Confederate Army officers. Two days earlier, Defense Secretary Mark Esper indicated that he was open to a broad discussion of such changes.
"These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom,'' Trump wrote. "The United States of America trained and deployed our HEROES on these Hallowed Grounds, and won two World Wars. Therefore, my Administration will not even consider the renaming of these Magnificent and Fabled Military Installations.''
Name changes have not been proposed by the Army or the Pentagon, but on Monday, Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy indicated in response to questions from reporters that they were "open to a bipartisan discussion'' of renaming bases such as Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Benning in Georgia.
Supporters of disassociating military bases from Confederate Army officers argue that they represent the racism and divisiveness of the Civil War era and glorify men who fought against the United States.
To amplify Trump's view, his press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, read his tweets to reporters in the White House briefing room. She said he is "fervently'' opposed to changing the base names and believes that doing so would amount to "complete disrespect'' for soldiers who trained there over the years.
The possibility of renaming the bases, McEnany said, is "an absolute non-starter'' for Trump.
If Congress were to pass legislation requiring name changes, he would not sign it, she said.
The U.S. military recently began rethinking its traditional connection to Confederate Army symbols, including the Army base names, mindful of their divisiveness at a time the nation is wrestling with questions of race after the death of George Floyd in police hands. The Navy and the Marine Corps are now banning public displays of the Confederate Army battle flag on their installations, casting their decision as necessary to preserve cohesion within the ranks.
Ten major Army installations are named for Confederate Army officers, mostly senior generals, including Robert E. Lee. Among the 10 is Fort Benning, the namesake of Confederate Army Gen. Henry L. Benning, who was a leader of Georgia's secessionist movement and an advocate of preserving slavery. Others are in Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, Texas and Louisiana. The naming was done mostly after World War I and in the 1940s, in some cases as gestures of conciliation to the South.
Few voices in the military are openly defending the link to Confederate symbols, but some of the bases named for Confederate officers are legendary in their own right. Fort Bragg, for example, is home to some of the Army's most elite forces. Any decision to change the name at Bragg or other bases likely would involve consulting with officials from the affected states and localities.
Paul Eaton, a retired two-star Army general and a former commanding general of Fort Benning, said Trump's statements go against ideals the Army stands for.
"Today, Donald Trump made it official. Rather than move this nation further away from institutionalized racism, he believes we should cling to it and its heritage, by keeping the names of racist traitors on the gates of our military bases,'' Eaton said.
Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel and veteran of the Iraq war, said in an email exchange that renaming these bases is long overdue.
"Most serving soldiers know little about the history behind the Confederate leaders for whom these bases are named, or the political deals that caused them to be honored in this fashion,'' he said. "There might be some pushback from a small segment of soldiers from the South, but this is what we like to call a `teachable moment.' Now is the time to finally bring about a change that will speak volumes as to what the U.S. Army stands for.''
David Petraeus, a retired four-star Army general, said the renaming move, which he supports, amounts to a "war of memory,'' and that before deciding to rename bases like Fort Bragg, where he served with the 82nd Airborne Division, the Army must be ready to follow its own procedures for such change.
"The irony of training at bases named for those who took up arms against the United States, and for the right to enslave others, is inescapable to anyone paying attention," Petraeus wrote in an essay published on June 9 by The Atlantic. "Now, belatedly, is the moment for us to pay such attention.''
Fort Bragg was named for Braxton Bragg, a native North Carolinian and Confederate general with a reputation for bravery and mediocre leadership. His forces were defeated at the Battle of Chattanooga in November 1863.
Stop the pain,' George Floyd's brother pleads with Congress
In the meantime, George Floyd's brother challenged Congress on June 10 to "stop the pain" as lawmakers consider a sweeping law enforcement overhaul, so the man he looked up to won't become just "another name'' on a growing list of black Americans killed during interactions with police.
Philonise Floyd's appearance before a House hearing came a day after funeral services for his older brother, the 46-year-old African American whose death has become a worldwide symbol in demonstrations calling for changes to police practices and an end to racial prejudice.
"I'm here today to ask you to make it stop. Stop the pain,'' Philonise Floyd told the silenced hearing room.
Choking back tears, he said he wants to make sure that his brother, whom he called "Perry,'' is "more than another face on a T-shirt, more than another name on a list that won't stop growing.''
Floyd challenged lawmakers to be leaders: "Our country, this world needs the right thing.''
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler gaveled in the session, with many lawmakers and witnesses masked during the COVID-19 outbreak, as Democrats review the Justice in Policing Act, a far-ranging package of proposals amid a national debate on policing and racial inequality.
Repercussions after the weeks of protest continued nationwide.
Trump ruled out changing the names of Army bases named for Confederate Army officers, NASCAR announced it is banning the Confederate flag from its races and venues, and Amazon said it will suspend police use of its facial recognition technology for a year.
In Washington, lawmakers also heard testimony from civil rights and law enforcement leaders as Congress considers changes to police practices and accountability after Floyd's death in police custody in Minnesota and the mass protests that followed.
"Today we answer their call,'' Nadler said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi watched from the audience, and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy also joined.
Republicans are criticizing activists who want to "defund the police" a catch-all term for shifting law enforcement resources though the Democratic bill does not call for that. Trump and allies have seized on the phrase to portray Democrats as extreme as GOP lawmakers rush to come up with their own proposals.
"The American people understand that it's time for a real discussion," said Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the panel. But he said they also understand "it is pure insanity to defund the police.''
For hours, witnesses described what what happened to Floyd on May 25 one called it a "lynching.'' Others placed his death alongside those of other African Americans, an ever increasing tally that has become difficult for lawmakers in Congress to ignore.
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, which is leading the legislative effort, said the proposed changes reflect a nation coming to grips with a history of racial injustice.
"This is about the kind of America we all want to see,'' said Bass.
The Democrats' legislation would create a national database of police misconduct, ban police choke holds and loosen "qualified immunity'' to make it easier for those injured to seek damages in lawsuits, among other changes. The proposals don't go as far as some activists want to defund police departments for other community services. They do, however, make available grant money for states to reimagine ways of policing.
Republicans as well as Democrats have called for a national registry of use-of-force incidents, so police officers cannot transfer between departments without public awareness of their records.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said the "depravity'' he said he saw in the video of Floyd's death "burned in my soul.'' He welcomed a new database and called for police chiefs to get rid of "bad apples.''
There is also growing bipartisan support for increasing the use of police body cameras, ending no-knock warrants police used one to enter the home of Breonna Taylor, who was killed in Louisville, Kentucky and making other changes to police practices and oversight.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that Trump was still looking at different options. She said the administration was making "final edits'' on a proposal for release "in the coming days.''
Philonise Floyd's testimony captivated the room as he recounted what he saw in the widely viewed video as an officer pressed a knee into George Floyd's neck while other police stood by. The one officer, Derek Chauvin, who is white, is now charged with murder, and three others also face charges.
"He called all of the officers `sir,'" said Philonise Floyd. "He still called them `sir' as he begged for his life."
"His life mattered,'' the brother said. He broke down at one point over the images. At another, he said he wonders every day if he will be "next.''
Within the wrenching testimony were many of the core issues being debated as part of the police overhaul. Those include questions about whether it's appropriate to have police officers respond to minor offenses Floyd was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a neighborhood market and the use of force to detain suspects.
"I am asking you, is that what a black man's life is worth? Twenty dollars?'' Philonise Floyd asked.
Asked if he could think of any reason for the incident, Floyd told Nadler his brother and Chauvin both worked at the same place.
"I think it was personal,'' Philonise Floyd testified.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said Wednesday investigators are looking into a report from CBS News that the men had "bumped heads'' working at the El Nuevo Rodeo nightclub in Minneapolis.
Rev. Darrell Scott, who is part of Trump's national diversity coalition, blasted activists' push to dismantle police departments as "one of the most unwise, irresponsible proposals'' ever.
Scott noted he, like many black men, has been pulled over by police for "driving while black,'' as he put it.
"I could very easily have been George Floyd,'' he testified. "However, I do not recommend throwing out the baby with the bathwater.''
The committee also heard from Angela Underwood Jacobs, the sister of a black law enforcement officer, Dave Patrick Underwood, who was shot and killed while guarding a federal courthouse in California during the protests that followed Floyd's death.
Underwood Jacobs, a former Republican candidate for Congress, called for justice for Floyd and for her brother. She said the idea of defunding the police was "ridiculous.'' But she also urged the lawmakers to find answers.