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May 7, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. – In response to the violent police deployment and mass arrests of student, staff, and faculty protestors on multiple Virginia campuses, ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Mary Bauer released the following statement: 

“Police violence should never be a tool to crush dissent. We deeply disapprove of university leaders’ decisions to deploy state police and nonsensical disciplinary charges against student demonstrators, and we are outraged to see Virginia State Police use chemical weaponry, riot gear and physical aggression not once but on multiple campuses against students engaged in protest—a long-standing American tradition rooted in the First Amendment. 

“In response to the horrifying escalations we’ve seen in recent weeks from university administrations across the Commonwealth, we are investigating possible abuses of students’ civil rights and civil liberties, including but not limited to the following: 

Selective enforcement & viewpoint discrimination 

  • Were institutional policies, ordinances, or state laws selectively enforced against pro-Palestinian protestors that were not enforced against others? 
  • How and when were institutional policies changed in order to be enforced against pro-Palestinian protestors? 
  • What communications took place between university and state officials, including the governor’s office? What role has the governor played in suppressing protest on Virginia campuses? 

Use of force & escalation 

  • Who decided to respond to non-violent protests as a criminal matter, requiring police enforcement, rather than a matter of institutional policy, and for what reason?  
  • On campuses where Virginia State Police responded, when and how was that response authorized? Was there a cost associated with that, and what was the cost? 
  • On campuses where Virginia State Police did not respond, what other law enforcement agencies external to universities participated in protest responses? Did the universities or local governments pay for or authorize their involvement? 
  • Who made the decision to deploy chemical irritants, such as tear gas or pepper spray, or to brandish military-style firearms, and what specific circumstances justified those decisions?  

Sanctions & due process 

  • In addition to criminal charges, what other adverse actions have been taken against protesting students? Have they been banned from campus, prohibited from finishing classes, or subjected to disciplinary action by the university?  
  • Are students receiving their full due process rights with regard to any alleged disciplinary infractions? 
  • Have any employees been threatened with loss of employment as a result of their participation in or support for protest activities? 

“History echoes. No commemoration of the fatal shooting of students at Kent State could be more shocking than for Virginia police to hold defenseless students at gunpoint on the very same day on another college campus more than half a century later. Virginians deserve answers, and although we generally do not provide criminal defense representation, we reiterate our call to all students and community members who believe their civil rights and civil liberties were violated to submit an intake at”