Editorial: Silencing the wrong voices

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

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

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  1. Ray Kelly is nothing but a racist bureaucrat who’s used to getting accolades for supposedly bringing down crime in NY city and protecting its citizens from terrorists living in our midst, so when his little speech was suddenly cancelled due to strong opposition from Brown University students who begin to heckle him and disrupt the speech he was a bit miffed to say the least. Immediately, University administrators and officials begin to frame the incident by describing these students as a small minority of rogue students who are hellbent on simply “shutting down all streams of debate with which they disagree” to quote the Brown Daily Herald’s own editorial board.

    Let me say that I find that sort reaction typical and predictable of most higher education institutions and their those who run them. If anything, these students took the debate to an entirely new level by showing Mr. Kelly that a clearly racist policy that discriminates against a particular racial or ethnic group discriminates and is clearly illegal. Those students should be applauded and praised for sending a strong message to Mr. Kelly those policies he was there to defend are indefensible and neither he nor anyone else who spouses those same type of polices is welcomed there. They had every right to show their disdain for the Comish and for I tip my hat to them.

    • Because crime hasn’t gone down in New York? Judging by the reaction in this paper most Brown students were opposed to Ray Kelly’s theory and application of policing. However, they were NOT opposed to letting him speak in a civil forum which the thugs that you so admire shut down. The only message you, tough guy, sent was that you are close-minded thugs. Even the members of the faculty who are die-hard liberals are condemning what you clowns pulled.

      • bravo

      • Prep School Softee is in full bloom. Lets hear him with the same vigor when the university invites persons to speak up for minority Hispanics/ Blacks / Muslims who are controversial. Oh wait. Brown would dare do that. They need the money and is too scared of the Hillel that would cry anti-semitism.

        Now cue the semitic baiting from Prep School Softee.

  2. I keep seeing the word “thug” used to describe the protestors. Let’s stop doing that.

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