Mills ’15: The commissioner and the kingpin

Opinions Columnist
Monday, April 7, 2014

On Oct. 29, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was invited by the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions to give a talk on ‘Proactive Policing.’ Before he was able to give his talk, he was shouted off stage by protesters from Brown and the greater Providence community. What happened on April 2 received far less attention. On April 2, the Brown Political Theory Project in collaboration with Students for Sensible Drug Policy invited former drug kingpin “Freeway” Rick Ross to campus to give a lecture. The event was well attended, with almost every seat in List 120 filled. There didn’t appear to be any outraged students and no one interfered with the lecture. Why did students welcome a drug kingpin and convicted felon onto the same stage off of which they shouted the police commissioner of America’s largest city? You might be rolling your eyes, but I feel like this question desperately needs to be asked of our student body.

On what criteria can we look at these two speakers and feel comfortable supporting one and humiliating the other? On their occupational credentials? On the results of their policies and actions? On the intent of their actions? On their cool factor?

Kelly was the police commissioner of New York City for 13 years. He served under both mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. He enjoyed some of the highest approval ratings of any public official in the city. If what we are asking is whether or not Kelly was qualified to speak about policing, then the answer is unequivocally yes. He is quite possibly one of the most influential police chiefs in the world.

Ross ran and oversaw one of the largest drug networks in the United States. His network was centered in Los Angeles but reached all the way down into New Orleans and across to Baltimore. During his time dealing drugs Ross made a profit estimated to be in excess of two billion dollars, amassing a personal fortune of just under a billion dollars before he was sent to prison to serve a life sentence for his role in the drug trade. This amount of money makes him second to only Al Capone in success in dealing drugs and controlled substances. Since his early release in 2009, Ross has billed himself as a social reformer, supporting drug policy reform and working to aid his former community in south central Los Angeles. Ross would also appear to have excellent credentials to give a talk on his experiences with the drug trade and drug reform.

What about the effects that these two men have had on society? During Kelly’s tenure as commissioner, crime in New York dropped significantly, though it is contested as to whether or not it resulted from his policies. Since Kelly came to office in 2001, New York’s homicide rate has dropped 49 percent. There were also significant increases in the number of black and Hispanic police officers on the force. Students primarily took issue with his controversial ‘stop-and-frisk’ policy, which is criticized for disproportionately targeting black and Hispanic people. These allegations are significant — racial profiling and the systemic aggressions that result from the policy can be deeply damaging to individuals and communities. We can probably agree that opinions on Kelly’s legacy are mixed.

Ross’ legacy is harder to pin down. Good statistics on drug use and drug points of origin are hard to come by, especially for thirty years ago. But Ross claims to have been purchasing and moving almost 500 kilos of cocaine per week. Even by relatively modest estimates, Ross’s distribution network probably supplied hundreds of thousands of drug users. Drug use also rarely hurts just the individual — the damage ripples across families and community structures. I think one can safely say that both Kelly and Ross have done significant damage to the communities that they worked with — however, I think there is a massive difference in scale.

Kelly’s jurisdiction was the City of New York while Ross presided over a drug empire spanning from coast to coast, and I struggle to see any positive impact of what Ross has done. During his lecture, Ross failed to provide any indication that he felt remorse for the damage he caused to communities across the country and could not even provide a straight answer when asked if he regretted the pain he had caused. Ross also had little to say about reforming the drug laws in the United States. He talked for only about 30 minutes, most of which was his personal story and shameless promotion of his merchandise. Maybe the release of his upcoming documentary will convince me of his value to the reform movement.

What about intent? I think that it’s clear Kelly’s goal wasn’t persecuting black and Hispanic residents of New York, even if that can be shown to be a side effect of his policies. He also instituted the most aggressive hiring campaign for minority policemen in New York’s history, and was lauded for his efforts to curtail alleged racial profiling in the United States Customs Service. Similarly, Ross never claimed to want to destroy communities and tear apart families — he just wanted to lift himself up out of poverty along with those around him.

Is it the cool factor? Are drugs and gang violence too sexy for Bruonians to protest? Rap music and movies often glorify drug dealing, but I have to hope we are mature enough to separate our morals and our entertainment.

So, I don’t have the answer. But I think that the student activists here at Brown that live for protests and outrage might want to take a moment to answer it for themselves. I personally support bringing controversial speakers to campus — I just think students owe it to themselves to take a closer look at who they are jeering and who they are cheering.


If you aren’t tired of talking about it already, Walker Mills ’15 would be happy to hear your opinions about Ray Kelly, Rick Ross or the future of speakers at Brown.



  1. Explicitly targeting coloreds. Not a very good public policy on which to give speeches.

  2. kazeegeyser says:

    The difference is that Rick Ross came to talk about drug reform, and Ray Kelly has a racist policy. The activist population at Brown (i.e. the ones who are the loudest) are more likely to hate racist people and want drugs to be legalized. Did Rick Ross do anything wrong by creating an empire to sell drugs when the problem is with the system itself? (In my opinion, the answer is “yes” but that’s because I’m in a minority at Brown in terms of drug policy)

    Speaking out about drug reform is not controversial at Brown.

  3. “Rap music and movies often glorify drug dealing, but I have to hope we are mature enough to separate our morals and our entertainment,” said the insane eighty-year-old apologist for police brutality. seriously “rap music” “movies” wtf

  4. Buttz Henderson says:


  5. Buttz Henderson says:

    dude u r dumb

  6. BDH editors, can you please declare a moratorium on the word “controversial”? it (among other things) makes your paper suck.

  7. By all means, if you feel that protesting Rick Ross is your visceral point of access to creating, joining, or strengthening a movement that imagines that another, better world is possible, then PROTEST!!! If your liberation is bound up in the liberation of those who suffered due to the actions of Rick Ross, then may you work with them!

    However, if protesting Rick Ross would service a lame talky-dude tit-for-tat view of a world without structural forces, plz stay home (although Queen-of-Sheen CPax would protect your rights to hit the street with her life, duh).

  8. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If you wanna sit down and chat about this, Walker, I’d be more than happy to. Just comment and let me know and I’ll email you. You are missing so many obvious key points (read other comments for better understanding). I almost feel bad for you. Ok, I don’t. You seriously made some terrible connections and got some facts wrongs. I can’t take the BDH seriously. I just can’t do this anymore.

  9. angrybrownstudent says:

    lolz. there are so many things off about this article, i don’t even know if it is worth it to respond, or even where to start. I’d like to address just one thing. You write “What about intent? I think that it’s clear Kelly’s goal wasn’t persecuting black and Hispanic residents of New York, even if that can be shown to be a side effect of his policies”

    Yeah…no. His intent, which he has articulated very clearly, is to “instill fear in young Black and Latino men.” Please read a book about the school-to-prison pipeline/prison-industrial complex and the War on Drugs (i.e. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow).

    And the fundamental difference is about power – Rick Ross is a black man, who was formerely incarcerated. He has NO institutional power. Lawmakers are not sitting listening to what her has to say. I am not saying his words have no impact, but not nearly the impact of Commissioner Kelly.

    Lets not forget that there were two rows of seats reserved for Providence Police officers for when Commissioner Kelly came to speak – so they can sit down, take notes on how and why he implemented his racist policies, and implement them here.

    • Walker Mills says:


      I appreciate you taking your time to share your opinions. I do feel however that I have to challenge you on the point you make about the quote attributed to Kelly. I actually looked into it while researching for this column. You put it in quotes while in fact he has adamantly denied ever saying that. That quote has only been attributed to Kelly by a man involved in the stop and frisk litigation with a significant political motive for coming out against Kelly. I decided to leave it out of my column even though many activist use the alleged quote as a rallying cry because I don’t feel that there is sufficient evidence that he said it, only a single person claims to have heard it.

  10. Oooooooh, now I get it. says:

    I hope to never have to separate my morals from my entertainment.
    But now I get understand how so many men go to strip clubs. Thanks for that insight.

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