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June 2, 2020

States Mobilize National Guard Amid Protests

Use this free news lesson to examine the reasons for the National Guard mobilization during the ongoing protests demanding justice for George Floyd.


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Trigger warning: The video has been edited for length and to remove disturbing footage. To watch the full video or read the transcript, click hereIf short on time, read this AP News summary of protests through May 31, and discuss the response by government and law enforcement officials. 

Read the news summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions.

Twenty-three states have mobilized the National Guard in response to ongoing protests in cities across the country. Though many protests have been peaceful, some protesters, along with other groups and individuals taking advantage of the protests, have vandalized, burned, looted and destroyed businesses. Violent confrontations between police and protesters have also been documented in dozens of cities. The first state to mobilize the National Guard was Minnesota, which continues to see demonstrations despite the presence of the Guard and imposition of curfews. 

  • Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was charged May 29 with third-degree murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.
  • Violent confrontations continued into Monday morning.
  • On May 31, the driver of a tanker truck sped into a group of protesters in Minneapolis and was later arrested.
  • Thousands of protesters have also gathered outside the White House, with some confronting Secret Service and others setting fires set at nearby parks and buildings.

Mobilizing The National Guard: Discussion Questions

  1. Essential questions: What choices have city and state leaders made to tamp down violence amidst nation-wide protests? What other strategies could they use?
  2. Do you think interventions such as mobilizing the National Guard and imposing curfews will help limit or end violence and destruction? If not, what will?
  3. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and other local leaders originally claimed that nearly all arrests were of people from outside the state, though they later walked back the claim. Why do you think they made this claim in the first place?
  4. Stories of violence and police brutality can be upsetting. If you are upset by this story, who is a trusted adult you can speak with? If you are not sure, ask your teacher.   
  5. Media literacy: What is the difference between media with press credentials and citizens with cell phones and other recording equipment who share what they witness on social media? Which source do you trust more? Why? In a fast-moving, chaotic crisis, what news sources help you understand the situation? 
Photo of crowd protesting the murder of George Floyd in front of the Tennessee State Capitol on May 30, 2020. The National guard is being called to quell unrest following protests.
Photo of crowd protesting the murder of George Floyd in front of
the Tennessee State Capitol on May 30, 2020. ​​​​​​Photo by: Nick Shockey

Extension Activities

1. Trump’s response: President Donald Trump has tweeted about the protests, but has not yet addressed the nation.

Watch this video or read the transcript of this interview and then ask your students: During moments of destructive civil unrest, what power do national leaders have to reduce tension or otherwise bring about peace? What words, if any, might be helpful in a moment such as this?

2. If there is time, watch What the 1960s can teach us about modern-day protests(video): Have students watch this interview with Princeton history professor Omar Wasow on the ways protest (whether peaceful or violent) can change the political landscape. Ask your students: How do these protests compare to some of the civil rights protests of the 1960s? Do you think these protests will lead to some of the same sorts of change? Why or why not?

PBS NewsHour Classroom

PBS NewsHour Classroom helps teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.

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