Today, LDF and civil and human rights groups sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardoza urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the allegations of law enforcement abuses —in response to peaceful protests occurring in cities and on university campuses across the country — that may be in violation of federal laws. The letter also urges the Department of Education to take immediate action to address possible civil rights violations committed by university officials in connection with peaceful protests on campuses. This letter follows and expands on the Legal Defense Fund’s (LDF) letter of May 2, 2024. 

In recent months, thousands of campus and other protesters have been arrested and detained—sometimes with egregious use of force—by officers from university, state, and local police departments, some of whom university administrators have called to break up peaceful protests. A recent review found that 97 percent of on-campus protests in support of Gaza and the Palestinian people have been peaceful. This is consistent with the racial justice protests of 2020 of which researchers determined 93 percent were peaceful. Yet, law enforcement agencies have repeatedly deployed militarized force and tactics on campus and other protesters to disband pro-Palestinian protests, as they did in 2020 in response to racial justice protests. These actions require immediate investigation by DOJ and, as they pertain to educational institutions, by ED to ensure that the federal and constitutional rights of all protesters have been and remain protected.

Nonviolent protests are part of a longstanding tradition of activism in the United States to express concern and outrage for civil and human rights violations, press for policy change, and push officials, including government actors and university officials, to adhere to the ideals and principles of our multiracial democracy. 

Read the full letter here.