Controversy has flared among students and community members — with students putting forth a petition, holding a vigil Monday night and planning a protest march for this afternoon — over the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions’ decision to host a lecture today by Ray Kelly, commissioner of the New York City Police Department.
Objection to Kelly stems from his promotion of the stop-and-frisk policy, which some claim uses racial profiling. The policy, in which NYPD officers stop and pat down pedestrians suspected of criminal activity, disproportionately targets blacks and Hispanics, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union. In August, a U.S. District Court judge determined the practice violated the constitutional rights of the city’s minorities, a decision the city is expected to appeal.
In response to the lecture, some hung up other posters around campus depicting Kelly alongside the Ku Klux Klan or swastikas — an action organizers said was unaffiliated with their official protest. Several students and Marshall Einhorn, the director of Brown RISD Hillel, criticized the posters, calling them inappropriate and insensitive.
Students drafted a petition Thursday and held the vigil Monday to protest the center’s selection of Kelly to deliver its Noah Krieger ’93 Memorial Lecture. Students also said they plan to march in protest from the Taubman Center to the List Art Building before the talk today.
Marion Orr, director of the Taubman Center, said Kelly was chosen because he is a “high-profile professional” who deals with important public policy issues related to crime and terrorism.
Kelly’s talk will cover his 11-year tenure as commissioner, during which he oversaw counterterrorism efforts and a 30 percent reduction in crime, according to the description on the Taubman Center’s website.
“This lecture sends a message … that Brown condones racial profiling,” said Irene Rojas-Carroll ’15, one of the students who organized the petition and vigil.
“There’s a lack of consideration for the triggering effects that (Kelly’s) presence would have on our campus amongst various students whose families may have been directly harmed by his policies,” said Jonathan Cohen ’15.
The format of the lecture — in which Kelly will deliver a speech, followed by a question-and-answer session — has also faced criticism.
Though the talk will not feature other speakers with alternative viewpoints, “there will be an opportunity for students and others who come to the talk to ask questions of Commissioner Kelly,” Orr said.
The movement is a “backlash to the entire format, not just Ray Kelly himself,” said Sophie Soloway ’14, another organizer. Future lectures should allow for debate by featuring speakers with opposing viewpoints, she said.
But both Soloway and Rojas-Carroll said a debate or panel would not make Kelly’s talk in particular more acceptable, because it would still inherently validate Kelly’s perspective.
“The reality is there is no such thing as debate between oppressor and oppressed,” Rojas-Carroll said.
But not all students expressed opposition to Kelly’s talk.
“I think the fact that he is controversial makes him that much more interesting,” said Haakim Nainar ’14. He said he would consider it a “disservice” to students if administrators sought to censor or limit controversial opinions.
Nainar said that, though he does not personally support the stop-and-frisk policy, there is value to having Kelly speak at Brown as an influential policymaker.
Orr said he had reached out to Kelly about facilitating a meeting between Kelly and concerned students, but Kelly has yet to respond to the request. He added that the center will work with students to set up workshops or seminars that would provide further opportunities for discourse.
At the vigil Monday evening, about 60 students and community members congregated in front of the Faunce steps and held white candles.
The vigil was meant to be a “sobering reminder” of the effects of racial profiling, said Jenny Li ’14, another student organizer, in an interview with The Herald.
Organizers of the vigil read a list of incidents of racial profiling, including the circumstances and the names of the victims. One of the victims mentioned was Trayvon Martin, who was fatally shot in Florida last year.
Student leaders also made speeches about their reasons for opposing Kelly’s talk.
“As a person of color, I am appalled that Kelly has singled out blacks and Latinos,” said Rudy Torres ’16.
Members of the Providence chapter of Direct Action for Rights and Equality also addressed attendees of the vigil.
“You’re the young minds of the world, and you have to live for the community,” said Joseph Buchanan, a member of DARE. “We can’t make change without you.”
Members of several student groups spent four hours Thursday drafting a petition protesting the talk, Rojas-Carroll said. The petition calls for the Taubman Center to cancel the lecture, to donate funds supporting the lecture to organizations dedicated to ending racial profiling and to be more transparent in its selection of future speakers. The petition garnered about 550 signatures by 4 p.m. Monday, Rojas-Carroll said.
Students also distributed multiple versions of posters around campus, some of which featured Kelly’s face alongside images such as hooded Ku Klux Klan members and swastikas superimposed over NYPD badges, as well as slogans such as “Hey Ray, how many kids did you kill today?” and “Stop Ray(cist) Kelly.” The posters were likely made by “free agents,” not students involved with organizing the vigil and protest, said Kristy Choi ’15, one of the organizers.
The poster containing the swastika sparked concern among students and administrators for what they called its offensive nature.
Einhorn said he took down several posters from the Hillel building Monday morning.
“The imagery and the associations that the swastika has are offensive to many, and shouldn’t be used in this fashion,” Einhorn said, though he added that he took down the posters due to a Hillel policy against posters from outside organizations, not because of the posters’ content.
“Equating Ray Kelly to a fascist leader who killed millions of innocent people is an ad hominem attack that I think demeans the value of any potential discussion students could have on campus about this issue,” said Noah Fitzgerel ’17. “And it’s offensive to the memories of those people whose lives were lost to the Nazi regime in Germany.”
Luke O’Connell ’17 said he shared his concerns with President Christina Paxson during her office hours Monday.
But though Paxson agreed the posters “are disturbing and potentially harmful” to community members, she ultimately did not move to have them taken down because of the University’s free speech policies, vice president for public affairs and University relations Marisa Quinn wrote in an email to The Herald.
An earlier version of this article implied that Sophie Soloway ’14 said the format of the Ray Kelly lecture sponsored by the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions should have allowed for debate. Soloway said she believes future lectures featuring controversial speakers should be structured as debates but that the Kelly event would not have benefited from a debate format.