Civil rights groups ask feds to investigate police response to campus protests

Civil rights groups asked the Justice Department on Thursday to investigate law enforcement’s response to protests at college campuses around the country over the war in Gaza.

A letter signed by more than a dozen organizations, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Amnesty International and several Arab and Jewish peace groups, asks the Justice and Education departments to “take immediate action to address possible civil rights violations committed by university officials in connection with peaceful protests on campuses.”

While most of the protests were peaceful, thousands of people were arrested and detained by officers for university, state and local law enforcement agencies in the spring.

Some responding departments used “militarized force and tactics,” such as deploying rubber bullets and other nonlethal projectiles into crowds, the letter said.

“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,” the groups said in the letter, first obtained by NBC News.

It asks the Justice Department to investigate policing activities in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.

It also asks the Education Department to investigate whether officials at Columbia University, Emory University, the University of Texas at Austin and UCLA violated the Civil Rights Act, which guarantees certain equal protections in public schools and institutions of higher learning.

The letter follows a turbulent spring for many colleges in the U.S., where protesters were arrested and sometimes faced violent counterprotests. Some students were threatened with suspension just days before graduation. 

University officials scrambled to address months of unrest and negative public attention as students set up encampments and faced off against counterprotesters and law enforcement officers. 

At UT Austin, a student told NBC News that she was grabbed by officers, thrown to the ground and dragged by her hair and an arm. The university’s president on April 24 called it a “challenging day for many.”

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