Courtesy of/Sam Ward
A helicopter hovers over protesters in D.C. on June 1.
Courtesy of/Sam Ward
As police aggressively sought to disperse protesters on Monday night, at least two helicopters flew unusually close to the ground, in what aviators called a "show of force." Onlookers noticed one of those helicopters had Red Cross markings, a symbol that usually denotes emergency aid or humanitarian assistance rather than military force.
Major General William J. Walker, the commanding general of the District of Columbia National Guard, announced Tuesday night that he has opened an investigation into the incident.
In response to a question about the use of the medical helicopter, which appeared to be a UH-72 Lakota, Walker's office said in a statement that he has "directed an investigation into a June 1 low-flying maneuver conducted by one of our rotary aviation assets."
The statement continued: "Our highest priority is the safety of our Citizen Soldiers and Airmen who support civil authorities as they perform their duties. This is our home, and we are dedicated to the safety and security of our fellow citizens of the District and their right to safely and peacefully protest."
The National Guard has been aiding local law enforcement as protests in the wake of George Floyd's death have rattled D.C. the past five days. Another 1,500 additional guardsmen were brought in from outside the District on Tuesday, though demonstrations were markedly more peaceful than the previous night.
Some military justice experts called the use of the medical helicopter a reckless break with norms.
"This was a foolish move," Geoffrey Corn, a former Army lawyer and professor at the South Texas College of Law in Houston, told the Washington Post on Tuesday. "The symbolic significance of the Red Cross is pervasive: It denotes a 'noncombatant' function of the armed forces."
Other choppers were spotted on the streets on Monday night, too. Around 10 p.m., residents reported seeing a helicopter descend on protesters near Capitol One Arena, flying low enough to rip branches from trees and leave debris in its wake.
Unlike the other aircraft though, this one appeared to be designed for combat, and was said to have been a Blackhawk chopper with U.S. Army markings.