NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly was supposed to speak at Brown University Tuesday afternoon, but there was a problem: some members of the audience preferred to boo him off the stage instead. Kelly, who is not very well-loved in some circles for his support and implementation of "stop-and-frisk" law enforcement tactics, was supposed to give a lecture on "Proactive Policing in America's Biggest City" for the school's Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions. Here's a video of what happened instead:
The Brown Daily Herald livetweeted some of the exchange:
Students interrupt Kelly upon his arrival onstage, chanting slogans and criticizing #stopandfrisk. Kelly: "I thought this was the academy."— Brown Daily Herald (@the_herald) October 29, 2013
'You are the terrorist, terrorizing our people,' shouts an audience member— Brown Daily Herald (@the_herald) October 29, 2013
VP Marisa Quinn: "I have never seen in my 15 yrs at Brown the inability to have a dialogue." Quinn immediately interrupted by audience.— Brown Daily Herald (@the_herald) October 29, 2013
Before the lecture, some students circulated a petition stating that Kelly would receive an honorarium for his speech. The petition asked for the school to instead donate that fee to non-profits working to end racial profiling, and for the cancellation of the lecture itself. Student reaction seemed mixed, with some, you know, participating and organizing the protest — about 100 individuals reportedly protested the lecture. Others were disappointed that Kelly wasn't given a chance to speak at all. Lisa Opdycke, a graduate student at the Taubman Center for Public Policy & American Institutions who attended the cancelled lecture, told the Atlantic Wire in an email Kelly was "visibly angry" as he left the lecture. Opdycke added that she doesn't agree with stop-and-frisk, but does "believe that this talk was a learning opportunity hijacked by a select portion of the Brown and Providence communities."
According to a statement from the university, officials decided to cancel the lecture after about 30 minutes of shouting and protest from the audience, which included both students and community members (the lecture was open to the public). Brown University President Christina H. Paxson wasn't too happy about the message sent by the cancellation: "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 dialog and the free exchange of views," she said.
Here's some context for why some students wouldn't want Kelly speaking at their university: earlier this year, a federal judge declared that Kelly's signature "stop-and-frisk" policy was unconstitutional, violating both the fourth and 14th amendments — a charge long-lobbied by critics at the practice. The city is appealing that decision, but it's not the only Kelly-era NYPD policy facing current scrutiny. Under Kelly's watch, the NYPD secretly infiltrated and collected intelligence on the city's Muslim community. That program was documented by a Pulitzer-winning series of reports from the AP. According to the AP, that program never led to a terrorism lead, despite its justification as a counterterrorism tactic. Communities United for Police Reform, a group critical of Kelly's stop-and-frisk policy, issued a statement to the New York Times arguing that his reception at Brown shouldn't really surprise anyone: "it’s not shocking that after directing policing that violates New Yorkers’ civil rights and the U.S. Constitution without any remorse," the statement reads, "That Commissioner Kelly would be poorly received.”
Later on Tuesday, Brown University president Christina H. Paxson sent a letter to the entire Brown community concerning the cancelled speech. "This is a sad day for the Brown community," she writes. She adds:
I appreciate that some members of our community objected to the views of our invited speaker. However, our University is – above all else – about the free exchange of ideas. Nothing is more antithetical to that value than preventing someone from speaking and other members of the community from hearing that speech and challenging it vigorously in a robust yet civil manner.
The whole letter is now available on Brown's Facebook page.
This post has been updated with additional information.