Brown University called off a lecture Tuesday by Raymond Kelly, the New York City police commissioner, when protesters in the lecture hall refused to stop shouting at him. Those protesting said that Brown shouldn't give a forum to someone associated with a "stop and frisk" policing that is viewed by many as discriminatory against black and Latino New Yorkers. The lecture wasn't called off until the protesters ignored repeated requests from university faculty members and students to let Kelly speak. He had agree to participate in a question period as well.
Christina H. Paxson, Brown's president, sent out a letter to students and faculty members, criticizing the protest for blocking the lecture. "This is a sad day for the Brown community. 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," she wrote. The Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper, also weighed in with an editorial against the way the protest unfolded. "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," the editorial said. "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."
Most of the letters to the editor published today in the student newspaper criticized the protest, but one recent alumnus defended the protest, writing: "The system Kelly promotes actively disenfranchises people of color. It makes them afraid to be in certain neighborhoods, to wear certain clothes, to be too close to the authorities. It breeds distrust and anger and, most importantly, is antithetical to a free and just society. Racism is not a valid viewpoint. This much is written directly into Brown law.... In this case, two wrongs do make a right, much like two negatives make a positive. It is the definition of tolerance to be intolerant of intolerance. As an alum, I am proud to be part of the community that booed Kelly offstage. Nobody needs to entertain arguments that assert this in any way prevents open discourse."
Here is YouTube video of the event:
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