The Posse Comitatus Act Application in 1992 and 2020

United States law restricts the president from using military troops as the domestic police force. Congressional Democrats enacted the Posse Comitatus Act in the United States in 1878 to stop Republican presidents from using the Army to complete Civil War Reconstruction or engage in civilian law enforcement operations (Doss Jr, 1989). In addition to the Posse Comitatus Act, military troops’ deployment and use are regulated by the insurrection Act of 1807. These acts dictate situations when the military should be used and how the operation should be carried out. The Posse Comitatus was used in the United States in 1992 and 2020 during riots, which raised questions about whether the presidents were right to do that.

Over the years, there have been situations where the military has been involved to ensure peace in the country. In 1992, riots spread in Los Angeles after the court ruling on the Rodney Ling case. People took to the streets to demonstrate, causing chaos, with some demonstrators destroying and looting from business premises. The most recent act was in 2020, when President Donald Trump used the military to disperse riots happening all over the nation during the Black Lives Matter protests. In both cases, there was the deployment of national security guards.

The Posse Comitatus applies in both events in that there was a need for the government to maintain peace amid chaos. Both protests involved large masses of people marching in the streets chanting. During the 1992 protests, the riots were extensively violent, requiring the federal government’s involvement to control them. This was done to prevent further damage or violence across the states.

In 1992 there was a breakout of riots all around the city of Los Angeles. These riots happened after a court ruling on the Rodney King case. In March 1991, Rodney King engaged the LAPD in a car chase but was stopped in traffic (Riordan, 1993). However, he was caught at a traffic spot and ordered out of the vehicle. The police were seen kicking and beating Rodney with their batons for close to fifteen minutes, with a few standing by and watching. The footage of the brutality was recorded by a civilian close to where the incident was happening.

Four police officers seen in the video were arrested and charged with excessive use of force. However, on April 12, 1992, the officers were not found guilty and were acquitted despite the video evidence provided (Linder, 2007). Three hours after the judgment, riots erupted all over Los Angeles, beginning at the intersection in South Los Angeles – Florence and Normandie (Linder, 2007). The protests were highly violent, with people causing damages, injuries, and even death.

During the pandemic period in 2020, there was a nationwide protest in the United States. This was due to the killing of an African American, George Floyd, who was arrested in Minneapolis (Reny & Newman, 2021). Images of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of African-American George Floyd, who then died, sparked protests all over the United States and even globally (Mourad, 2022). People were protesting against police brutality and racism.

The two incidences in the case study were handled under the federal authority jurisdictions. Both incidences saw the destruction of property and a case of the local government being unable to control the protestors. In the 1992 protest, personal property was destroyed, and property damage was done to the federal court building and police headquarters (Riordan, 1993). In 2020, government properties were destroyed and vandalized. According to Tebor (2021), the 2020 protests should have been handled under state jurisdiction, and troops should not have been sent to Oregon and Portland states. The protests in many states were peaceful, and thus there was no need for federal jurisdiction involvement.

In the 1992 case, the president at the time, George H. W. Bush, did not infringe on the states’ rights by sending federal officers to control the situation. The local authorities were not prepared to deal with the situation, and the LAPD chief did not deal with the matter effectively and timely. Taking too long to respond to the protests gave way and time for the protestors to mobilize themselves and cause more harm. By the time the local authorities responded, the situation was already out of control, and only federal troops could manage it (Useem, 1997). The fact that the riots were also violent and in an area full of gangs and drug cartels made it essential for the military to be involved (Stevenson, 2013). Therefore, the president did not infringe on the state’s rights by sending federal officers and military troops as the state could not manage the riots.

The 2020 protest saw President Donald Trump use his power to deploy the military in some areas, such as Portland and Oregon. The direction of Donald Trump’s administration in 2020 to use the military infringed on states’ rights by sending federal officers and military troops into states to quell local protests (Zimmerman, 2020). In this situation, the federal government did not need military officers as the protestors were engaging in peaceful protests. The military was used to disband legal protests, and that is against the Posse Comitatus Act (Zimmerman, 2020). The states of Oregon and Portland, where most military officers were deployed, could have handled the situation alone without engaging federal troops. This was, therefore, an infringement on the states’ rights.

There is a difference between the riots in 1992 and 2020 regarding the Posse Comitatus Act. The protests were violent and involved cases of looting and property damage. There was also the issue of particular races, such as the Asians being removed from their cars and beaten. This was due to a previous killing case causing tension between African-Americans and Asians (Stevenson, 2013). Many of their shops were also destroyed, and their products were stolen.

The Posse Comitatus was not used correctly in 2020. On the other hand, The Posse Comitatus was used to protect state properties and items during the 2020 protests since the protests were peaceful except for vandalizing state property (Tebor, 2020). President Donald Trump, therefore, deployed federal troops to protect the properties of the state, especially in the states of Portland and Oregon (Zimmerman, 2020). The Posse Comitatus in 2020 was uncalled for, as the local and state government could have dealt with the situation.

This affected the deployment of federal officers and active-duty military units in that, in one case, there was the deployment of officers in areas where they were required and in another where they were not. It led to military officers engaging in illegal activities while in the line of duty (Zimmerman, 2020). Both cases saw the loss of life and case of people going missing. People living in the affected areas reported military officers kidnapping people by arresting them and putting them in unmarked vehicles (Riordan, 1993). According to Riordan (1993), there were complaints of reporters and people of interest being kidnapped or brutally beaten throughout the operations.

In conclusion, the Posse Comitatus act is a fundamental act when it comes to regulating powers held by the president. It should be used only in cases where the nation’s security is threatened. States governors and leaders should urgently handle riots to prevent escalation and more damage. Both presidents had reasons to use the Posse Comitatus, although it could have been avoided.


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