Yesterday, as almost the entire community is aware, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was scheduled to give the Noah Krieger ’93 Memorial Lecture — a privately funded lecture sponsored by the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions. The lecture was abruptly cancelled after students and community members would not yield the floor, even after pleas by students in the audience and University administrators. The speech was cancelled, while students of all backgrounds were denied the opportunity to question Ray Kelly. While student organizers pat themselves on the back, voices were silenced yesterday — and it’s not the voices they think.
Virtually everyone at Brown thinks stop-and-frisk is an absurd, racist and certainly illegal policy. We were heartened when federal judge Shira Sheindlin ruled the policy unconstitutional, and there were students who looked forward to challenging Kelly on these grounds. The summer ruling was a profound embarrassment for Kelly and for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and pointed questioning would have quickly revealed the extent of the city’s loss in this court ruling. Unfortunately, while Kelly walked away satisfied that he tried his best to engage in civil discourse, he was not rigorously questioned on the merits of his tried-and-proven-illegal policy.
Every now and then, we have a campus-wide discussion about the diversity and strength of campus debate. It is evident at this point that there is an incredibly vocal minority of students who feel compelled to shut off all streams of debate with which they disagree. There is perhaps a majority of students who find themselves frustrated with with the narrow scope of debate that occurs in person or now, more than ever, on forums like Facebook. There are students — students from diverse backgrounds — who are afraid to state their opinion, and that is a profound loss for this campus.
We have heard from students who identified as students of color, who wished to question Kelly directly but were denied this opportunity. These students deserve an apology from organizers who apparently felt that they knew what was best for them, and we hope that these students are given the forum to express their opinion. We have heard from students of Jewish descent who felt personally hurt by posters that superimposed New York City Police Department badges with the image of a swastika, but these concerns were brushed off by protest organizers who dismissed the action as done by students “unaffiliated with their official protest”— though, of course, this protest was far from official. Evidently, discrimination against minority students is only worthy of their concern if it focuses on particular groups.
In an email to the community, President Christina Paxson called this “a sad day for the Brown community” and “simply unacceptable.” We agree that the tone with which this protest was held was inappropriate, and ultimately fruitless. Specifically, we urge students to focus on her argument that “members of our community were denied their right to challenge (Kelly).” This is the strongest possible condemnation of today’s actions.
We can argue for free speech or civility or the importance of intellectual discourse. We have in the past, and we will continue to do so in the future. But the voices of students — particularly of students of color — that were silenced deserve a voice. We hope that all students who are so moved will continue to write in to The Herald, where we can continue a debate that was unfortunately shut down yesterday.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Rachel Occhiogrosso, and its members, Daniel Jeon, Hannah Loewentheil and Thomas Nath. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.