A lecture by New York City Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly scheduled for Tuesday afternoon was canceled after protesters halted Kelly’s speech and would not yield the floor.
Controversy preceded the talk — titled, “Proactive Policing in America’s Biggest City” — due to its speaker’s staunch support for the contentious stop-and-frisk policy. The event was presented by the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions as part of the Noah Krieger ’93 Memorial Lecture series.
Student protest actions leading up to the event included creating a petition and holding a vigil in honor of victims of racial profiling, The Herald previously reported. After administrators rejected demands laid out in the petition, protest efforts expanded, according to a press release distributed by the event’s protesters.
Around 100 students and community members gathered outside List Art Center about an hour before the lecture was scheduled to start, chanting phrases such as, “Ray Kelly, you can’t hide, we charge you with homicide” and holding signs reading “Stop police brutality,” “Systemic Racism,” “Brown is complicit” and “Ray(cist) Kelly,” among others.
The event took place in a packed List 120, forcing some to watch from an overflow room in List 110.
Marion Orr, director of the Taubman Center, introduced Kelly and acknowledged the protesters’ presence. He said that while “protest is a necessary and acceptable means of demonstration at Brown University,” interrupting the lecture would be inappropriate because it would hinder others’ ability to listen and engage with Kelly.
Protesters reacted vocally to mentions of Kelly and his policies throughout Orr’s introduction. When Kelly himself took the stage, protesters’ boos mixed with applause. As soon as he began to speak, many protesters stood with their fists in the air and began shouting in unison, after which neither Kelly nor Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn and Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations Marisa Quinn — two administrators present — could regain control of the auditorium.
“People felt very passionately and they wanted to share those stories,” said Esteban Ronancio ’15, who was not present in the auditorium but participated in the broader protest.
Protesters shouted various chants, including, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” Others shouted that Kelly’s policies have been responsible for suppressing the voices of people of color and that Kelly did not deserve a platform at Brown.
“I have never seen in my 15 years at Brown the inability to have a dialogue,” Quinn said as she attempted to quiet the auditorium and resume.
After about a half-hour of attempts to continue the lecture, administrators decided to cancel the event.
Many individuals involved in the protest said they were pleased with the turnout and the results.
“Our goal was for the lecture to be canceled from the beginning,” said Irene Rojas-Carroll ’15, one of the mobilizers behind the protest. Rojas-Carroll previously told The Herald she felt there was no format in which Kelly would be an appropriate speaker at Brown.
Among the protesters were members of organizations in the greater Providence community, including Direct Action for Right and Equality, a group that seeks social, economic and political justice for people of color.
As the protest filtered into the building, some re-enacted a 2006 demonstration by the now-defunct Coalition for Police Accountability and Institutional Transparency, which had been formed in response to allegations of institutionalized racism and abuse by the Department of Public Safety and the Providence Police Department. Protestors read emotionally charged accounts of racial discrimination by police officers, which were originally shared at the 2006 rally.
After the event, protesters gathered in front of List and gave speeches in celebration and commitment to continuing efforts against racial profiling.
“I think it was very clear that a huge number of students support” the protest, Rojas-Carroll said.
Protesters voiced concerns that the event, and in extension the Taubman Center and the University, had condoned racial profiling.
“Presenting him in this place of honor is not just upsetting, but frustrating and angering,” said Camila Pacheco-Fores ’14, who attended the event in protest.
Many other students expressed frustration that Kelly was denied the opportunity to speak.
“It would have been more effective to take part in a discussion rather than flat out refuse to have him speak,” said Denise Yoon ’17.
At one point during the disruption, Chris Piette ’14 stood up to counter the protesters and was quickly interrupted.
“You’re angry for a good reason,” he said, “but your volume and your inability to listen is quieting my voice.”
Piette later told The Herald that though he identifies as a racial minority and is “no stranger to racial discrimination,” the way to reach progress is not through anger.
The protesters “were too loud and angry to realize their voices were not the only ones that matter,” Piette said.
Jamelle Watson-Daniels ’15 said she has found a lack of acceptance for opposing perspectives at Brown. She arrived at the lecture in protest after hearing about it at a Black Student Union meeting but said she felt the protest’s organizers had misrepresented the event to make the Taubman Center seem completely unresponsive to student concerns about the “racial implications” of Kelly’s policies.
She said she was surprised to learn the lecture would have a question-and-answer portion that would allow students to engage with Kelly.
“Open-mindedness runs both ways. You have to be able to hear both sides of the coin. It’s disappointing if we can’t, and then we can’t have a dialogue,” said Torin Collier-Mark ’17.
Orr said the Taubman Center had made efforts to respond to student concerns about lack of dialogue by creating an expanded time period for audience members to ask the commissioner questions. Kelly was slated to speak for around 20 to 25 minutes and spend the rest of his time responding to questions.
“I think it’s a crying shame that people didn’t get to hear Raymond Kelly respond to his critics,” said Ross Cheit, a professor of political science and public policy at the Taubman Center.
Various University officials and administrators expressed surprise and disappointment with the lecture’s cancellation.
“I don’t recall in my years here a time when a lecture was stopped based on the crowd disrupting the speaker,” said Mark Porter, chief of police for DPS.
Deputy Chief of Police for DPS Paul Shanley added that though DPS was there to make sure the protest did not get out of control, the shutdown was not for fear of a public safety risk. DPS does not “take sides,” he said.
“The conduct of disruptive members of the audience is indefensible and an affront both to civil democratic society and to the University’s core values of dialogue and the free exchange of views,” President Christina Paxson wrote in a statement.
In an email to the community, Paxson wrote that she has asked Klawunn to organize a forum to “discuss our values and expectations as a community.” Paxson also wrote that she would reach out to Kelly “to convey (her) deepest regret for the manner in which he was treated.”
Klawunn said the University does not plan to pursue disciplinary action against the students who disrupted the lecture.
Following the cancelation, Quinn said the University might have to review its policy of allowing all members of the community, as opposed to only individuals with Brown IDs, into the event.
Orr said it is unclear at this time what, if any, impact this event will have on future lectures at Brown.
— With reporting by Mathias Heller, Emmajean Holley, Elizabeth Koh and Andrew Smyth
Updated Oct. 30. at 2 a.m.