Columns

Katz ’14: Tea Party on the left

By
Guest Columnist

In 2012, 55 percent of those stopped and frisked were black, 32 percent were Hispanic and only 10 percent were white. In the same year, 89 percent of stops and frisks involved citizens not guilty of any crime. It would take significant convincing to demonstrate to me that this type of policy does not do social harm.

That said, stop-and-frisk has supporters — not only among political extremities, but among mainstream voices. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is an outspoken advocate for the policy. Bloomberg and others argue the policy has reduced crime, though the causal link between stop-and-frisk and crime reduction is tenuous, as crime rates were dropping prior to Bloomberg’s tenure.

Revulsion among Brown students does not reflect the political landscape at large, and preventing New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly from speaking on campus exacerbated the problem it aimed to solve. Debates are more productive than echo chambers.

In academic writing, weak concession paragraphs often draw into question the strength of the thesis, sometimes likened to “dueling a straw man.” Kelly is no straw man, and his “defeat” would have been a more powerful gesture than his exclusion.

I hope to offer several arguments on behalf of allowing speakers like Ray Kelly to come to Brown’s campus, not to encourage their policies, but to most effectively oppose them.

Inversion Scenario: Imagine we were on a campus that believed unanimously that stop-and-frisk is a good policy. Would it be advisable to prohibit someone to speak against stop-and-frisk? The fact that people have the ability to be convinced that they know with certainty that something is the correct answer even when it may not be underscores the idea that the world’s complexity renders everything debatable.

Morality of Intention vs. Morality of Outcome: If we ask Ray Kelly whether his agenda is racist, he will likely say he is only trying to do what is best for NYC. Immoral outcome does not prove immoral intent.

Stop-and-Frisk is Up for Debate: Some have made the claim that Ray Kelly’s bigotry and practices of policing are not up for debate. The obvious pushback is that if this were not a debate, Kelly’s policies would not exist.

The Larger Debate: It should not be surprising that we are not allowed to engage in a direct debate with a speaker as high-profile as Kelly. Instead it is advantageous to consider Kelly’s talk as part of the “larger debate” — that is, the nationwide discussion on stop-and-frisk. In allowing Kelly to speak, we are hearing the other side make its case.

Moral Relativism: The posters depicting Kelly with a Ku Klux Klan member and swastika were disrespectful and lazy symbolism — a simplistic attempt to smear through absurd exaggeration and fabrication. If I called George W. Bush a jabroni, you might not disagree, but my resort to such a childish critique would draw into question the merits of my argument. If students needed to take advantage of the sonic resemblance of Ray to “Ray-cist” in order to make the point that he shouldn’t speak, then I am left to wonder how strong the case for his exclusion really was.

It is also worth acknowledging, and responding to, some of the most prevalent arguments circulating campus as to why Kelly was not entitled to speak:

“Do we draw the line somewhere? Would it be permissible to allow a KKK spokesman?”

Stop-and-frisk has disproportionate racial effects, but this is a laughably unrestrictive criterion for equating Kelly with a KKK member. Kelly’s talk falls in the same category as many others — a universally sought goal, crime reduction, with a polarizing method. An actual member of a hate group might not only have controversial policy suggestions with objectionable goals.

“Giving Kelly a platform suggests that the University condones his behavior.”

Arguing that listening implies agreement undercuts the entire idea of discourse. Part of being an intelligent adult and a basic tenet of liberalism is respecting the right of others to hold views that depart from your own. Giving Kelly a platform does not suggest agreement. It suggests maturity.

“White people have no right to participate in the debate on Kelly.”

Imagine you have two policy options concerning the betterment of a minority community: The first is suggested by an individual who is white, the second by an individual of color. Suspend disbelief and assume that we can say with certainty that the first policy will have a more positive effect than the latter. Which policy do you choose?

Marginalized groups may be closer to several issues and better equipped to make contributions in many cases, but it is unproductive to assume that people from other backgrounds cannot be valuable partners.

So, to those who opposed Kelly’s presence: Did derailing Kelly’s talk on campus advance your goals of opposition to stop-and-frisk? Or, like in the case of the Tea Party in the recent government shutdown, will your demonization of discourse be the lasting echo of your efforts?

Adam Katz ’14 would be happy to discuss one or several of these arguments and can be reached at adam_katz@brown.edu.

  • bluch

    “Did derailing Kelly’s talk on campus advance your goals of opposition to stop-and-frisk?”

    The answer to this is YES. YES, IT DID. (Well, I mean, “goals of opposition” is not a grammatically correct anything, but if you meant “advance your position and/or argument against stop-and-frisk,” then YES.)

    Your arguments are laughably free of any context or education on issues of oppression, uprising, and collective action. And especially free of understanding the history and experience of racism, thereby rendering your position callous and unfeeling when taken within a long legacy of patriarchal white men repressing the voices and opinions of minorities. Harsh, but you must understand your context.

    The reason that yesterday’s protest does not represent “the political landscape at large” is because minorities have never – ever, in the history of the United States – participated in shaping this country’s political landscape. In case you need to be checked on this, THAT IS NOT A GOOD THING.

    Ray Kelly is WRONG. The courts have decided he’s wrong, and New York City will soon vote in a new mayor whose intention is to eliminate stop-and-frisk in the coming years. (Not soon enough, but something.) Entertaining his racist opinions is blatantly offensive, and not one single quote from a white male philosopher spouting about “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” is going to convince any of us otherwise.

    • Alex

      I appreciate this comment, and do understand that given your (and my, and hopefully every single Brown student) understanding of what is morally right, Mr. Kelly is indubitably wrong in his ways.

      However, you answer the author’s question with an emphatic YES and then immediately move on with your opinions on Katz’ article. Would you please elaborate on how the protest that prevented Kelly from talking advanced the goal of an end to racist stop-and-frisk policies?

      • bluch

        Sure. With the understanding, of course, that the goal of this one action (which was the final action after a slew of actions including asking the administration to stop the protest, asking for a debate platform, and asking for more Q&A time, all to no avail) was not to stop the practice of stop-and-frisk. I hope we can all understand that given the fact that stop-and-frisk remains in practice despite the collective power of minorities in NYC who are opposed to this policy, and the courts literally saying it’s illegal, one protest at Brown was never going to move the needle forward in terms of implementation or revocation of that policy. Let’s give ourselves all a little more credit than believing that stupid counter-argument.

        When it comes to organizing against an oppressive majority opinion (especially when also dealing with the unchecked privilege of oodles of white male Brown students), direct action is often used as a dialogue-inducing strategy. As many involved with the movement have pointed out, this action has facilitated FAR MORE conversation around Kelly’s policies and our campus culture than one or two students asking him polite questions could ever have accomplished. Is that not the goal of my Voltaire-touting Facebook friends? Debate?

        ( And to the inevitable response that the consequential debate from this rally silences or eliminates white/white male voices from the conversation, I can draw on personal experience to say two things. First of all, white men do not need to worry about their opinions not being heard. There’s a lot of history on their side. And second, I have engaged respectfully with plenty of white men on this question in the last 24 hours. Respectful debate/conversation is a great consequence of a direct action, so long as both/all sides participate. )

        Oppression is perpetuated because oppressors are given platforms, listened to over and over, and then eventually their opinions become the status quo. This is the incomplete answer as to why white men rule this country – they always have, so we think that’s what leadership looks like. They speak loudly, so we listen because we were trained to do so. In this instance, voices rose up to overwhelm the dominant rhetoric because it is offensive, wrong-headed, immoral, oppressive, and ignorant. I can’t think of a better way to disrupt the status quo and advance our campus rhetoric towards examining our privilege, especially when it comes to why so many of us seem to think Ray Kelly’s opinions have a place on our campus. And in the process of doing so, we just may move closer towards a collective opinion that stop-and-frisk is a terrible policy with destructive consequences. All we can hope for is respectful, informed conversation.

        • Brown

          “As many involved with the movement have pointed out, this action has facilitated FAR MORE conversation around Kelly’s policies and our campus culture than one or two students asking him polite questions could ever have accomplished. Is that not the goal of my Voltaire-touting Facebook friends? Debate?”

          Disagree. This action has facilitated argument about the methods used by the protesters yesterday, but I see precious little real discussion about Kelly’s policies, their impact, how they came about, and how to combat them. In fact, many of the posts inundating my Facebook wall were angry insults towards anyone who could possibly feel disappointed by the protesters’ efforts to shout Kelly down. They were designed not to encourage debate, but to shut it down. I sympathize with the anger of people who feel this way, but to say that these posts, which tear down anyone with a slightly different view, encourages debate, is untrue.

          I see many people trying to have it both ways. They claim that protests must have multiple tactics, ignoring that the protest shut down debate and silenced people who did want to participate in the lecture, many of them minorities. They may claim that debate is the aim of the protest, then refuse to acknowledge people whom they disagree with.

          Perhaps you do believe that the protests would somehow incite debate, and perhaps you have been able to engage in respectful debate. But for many who shouted Kelly down, or support those who did, that is not the case — in their OWN words, they openly scorn those who believe there could be “open dialogue” or “free discourse” about this matter. Instead of debate being facilitated, I see derailment of the conversation and dismissal of it. Everyone who already thought stop-and-frisk was a terrible policy — most of them still do. Those who thought it had some merit — well, we refuse to talk to them, and they have stopped listening.

    • Adam

      Hi, thanks a lot for your comment. If you’d like to talk more, feel free to shoot me an email: adam_katz@brown.edu

    • Obama

      “..because minorities have never – ever, in the history of the United
      States – participated in shaping this country’s political landscape. In
      case you need to be checked on this, THAT IS NOT A GOOD THING.”

      see ” Barack Obama”

      • Really?

        If you truly believe that having a bi-racial president-just one person-who is heralded as the “first Black president” means that ALL minorities have power in shaping this country’s political landscape, you’re missing it. Please reeducate yourself on the privilege and power of white males in American history.

  • Zal Shroff

    Thank you for championing productive reasoning, Adam! I hope that yesterday’s protesters, who no doubt deplore the government shut down, realize that their actions were just as self-righteous.

    Unfortunately, I think that there may be a backlash against your article because you are a straight white male. On this ground alone, advocates of the protest may claim that you have nothing to add to this or any discussion concerning race, class, gender, or sexuality. They will take stock of what they perceive to be your background of experiences, and will say that you are permanently blind to the issues at hand. They may also ask you to “check your privilege,” proclaiming that despite logic, reasoning, and understanding, you cannot hope to approach or interpret their individual experiences. Like those who appropriated the swastika and images of the KKK this week, which you rightly called lazy symbolism, these advocates will use your “privilege” to shut down rational dialogue. This push-back is something that I, as a queer person of color, have faced many times at Brown, and it’s not because I don’t fit the labels– it’s because I think differently. I would like to tell you that as a well-intentioned, reasoned, and intelligent member of the Brown community, you deserve to be heard. All of us do.

    Well done on this article.

  • anon

    I agree that discourse is important, but I disagree with your statement that giving him a platform does not imply that the university condones his policies and think it is important to ask the question of who is being given a voice. Inviting an honored speaker to give a lecture with a very limited Q&A session following is not a free exchange of ideas, nor does it provide the opposite viewpoint.
    If students had not protested his talk, I very much doubt there would be the same level of discussion that is currently happening on this campus. Of course, some of this discussion is about students on the left’s “refusal to hear” an opposing viewpoint, but the majority of those students are already informed about Kelly’s policies and this is the very reason they oppose them. If people felt that the cancelling of this lecture prevented them from learning about Kelly’s policies, a quick internet search can tell them all about it.
    It’s not just about his “views,” its about the discriminatory and damaging policies he has implemented and the University’s choice to give his already privileged voice a platform instead of the groups he is hurting.

  • James

    Not here for this white boy dictating how his unoppressed, privileged, and unaffected body and mind think people of color should facilitate their own forms of protest. This is laughable.

    • Adam

      Hi James, thank you for your comment. If you want to talk more, feel free to shoot me an email: adam_katz@brown.edu

      • pssh

        why bother, adam? he’s clearly a lost cause.

    • Question

      What if the author were white? Would that change your opinion of his argument?

      • Question [edit]

        *were not white*

  • oh please

    I’m not aware of the Tea Party ever having done anything like this. Tea Partiers actually believe in liberty. They don’t do anything like what happened this week. They’re also usually very respectful.

    Perhaps you don’t know that because you’ve never been exposed to any at your current university.

    • Adam

      Hi, thanks a lot for your comment, it raises a really important point. In drawing the comparison to the Tea Party my aim was not to make any statements on the platform or general respectfulness of either the Tea Party or the Ray Kelly protesters, only to say that, in my opinion, the nature of a tactic is overshadowing the issue position. In other words, I think that the Tea Party’s support of a government shutdown with respect to Obamacare (or at least their ostensible support, no one really wanted the government to shut down) is now the story people remember, i.e. the Tea Party as obstructionist or uncompromising, and have forgotten many of the specific reasons for their opposition to the ACA.

      Likewise, and this depends on who you ask I suppose, my impression/fear is that for many Brown students and much of the media (NYTimes, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, The Atlantic, etc.) the story has become ‘Brown students heckle Ray Kelly’, and the debate has shifted to one of freedom of expression and its relationship to race (an important topic of conversation no doubt) instead of one directly on stop and frisk. I intended for this article to evaluate tactical choices and political strategy in relation to an end goal, not to criticize the goals of the Tea Party or Ray Kelly protesters. If you would like to talk more, please shoot me an email: adam_katz@brown.edu

      • okay

        Fair enough. Headline writers get carried away sometimes.