Gov. Charlie Baker’s call-up of a thousand members of the Massachusetts National Guard a couple of weeks ago sent chills, stirring still-fresh memories of the rioting and destruction that rolled through the streets of Boston this spring.
The governor caught criticism for being reticent about his reasons. His office did not specify why the soldiers were needed, only that they were on hand “in the event that municipal leaders require their assistance.” In hindsight, his precaution and approach are to be commended, not condemned.
Baker activated the Guard for the stated purpose of helping with “the preservation of life and property, preservation of order, and to afford protection to persons.” Speaking to reporters four days after he activated the Guard, Baker finally allowed that dozens of events were being planned on social media toward that weekend, and some had the potential of drawing “very big numbers” of people.
“And we heard from a number of municipal officials who asked us if we would have people available to support them if those events turned out to be bigger than what they would be able to manage on their own,” he said. And so he made the arrangements.
Fortunately, while plenty of small-scale demonstrations occurred, none brought the predicted swarm. Thus, that Monday, Baker send the Guard members home.
With social unrest that has roiled cities from Wisconsin to Oregon -- and that literally inflamed Boston and Brockton following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody earlier this year -- local officials were right to be concerned. Also understandable was Baker’s decision not to speculate on what might or might not happen at demonstrations before they occurred.
The Guard did not parade through the streets or intimidate anyone. They were simply on hand in case things got out of hand. It was better that they be assembled and ready. While no one wants to see the Guard enlisted to control protests, given recent experience, it was good that Baker and his administration were prepared.