Brown U. Students Under Attack for Righteous Protest Against Chief Pig of Stop-and-Frisk

November 9, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


On October 30, about 100 students at Brown University and others from the neighboring community in Providence, Rhode Island, prevented New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly from giving a speech on "Proactive Policing in America's Biggest City." (See "Brown University: Righteous Protest Shuts Down NYPD Head Raymond Kelly, Unapologetic Proponent of Stop-and-Frisk"). This has sparked an intense and much-needed debate on both the morality of stop-and-frisk and what constitutes "acceptable means of expression" on college campuses, with dueling Facebook pages containing letters in support of and opposed to the university's decision to invite Kelly to speak. And the university has now set out to seriously punish the students, calling for an investigation with the possibility of repercussions for students involved in the action.

Video: Emily Kassie and Brown Political Review

The action the students took was completely correct and exemplary. They must be supported and the university's vindictive attempts must be opposed and beaten back.

From the beginning, the protesting students have taken the stand that the practices enacted, enforced, and espoused by Kelly – and in particular the stop-and-frisk program targeting Black and Latino youth—are immoral and unacceptable. One of the leaders of the protest, Jenny Li, said they first petitioned the university to cancel the lecture, but when this didn't work, Li said, "We decided to cancel it for them."

The students' action has created a lot of debate—some saying that the students violated Kelly's freedom of speech. But as one protester argued, "Allowing Ray Kelly his constitutional right to express his speech, in this particular situation, is illegitimate... an abolitionist is not interested in the freedom of speech of a slave master. He's simply trying to abolish the system..."

A guest editorial in the Brown Daily Herald the week following the action, said:

"I have no doubt that had his [Kelly's] speech been allowed to take place, the question and answer session would have been a display of intellectual force he would have been woefully unable to withstand. We could have collectively exposed him for the menace that he is and done so in an unimpeachably civil fashion that allowed us to feel good about our community as a place in which tolerance and reason triumph over intolerance and bigotry.

"But that's where it would have stopped: our community. This civil discourse would simply not have resounded far beyond the lecture hall, and word of 100 Brown students' intellectual triumph certainly would not have traveled to the communities throughout the country that are victims of the violent policies men like Kelly perpetuate and amplify."

The student ended his comments this way:

"Civility that comes at the expense of further marginalizing the subjugated is not only worthless, but also criminally dishonest.

"Because of this, I can appreciate that there are certain moments when an eruption of raw emotion—albeit a disruptive one—better empowers the voices of the oppressed than any sterile exercise in ‘intellectual rigor' undertaken on their behalf ever could. Upon reflection I have come to understand that last Tuesday was one of those moments, and I hope those of you who have not already will soon come to do the same."

This bold action has sharply divided the campus. In a poll done after the cancellation, over 80 percent of the students said they oppose stop-and-frisk while 8 percent said they supported it, and 80 percent of the students polled supported the demonstration outside the lecture hall. But when it came to the actual cancellation of the program, over 70 percent disagreed with the students going into the hall and disrupting the event. At the same time, 13 percent said they supported this action. This is actually quite a significant minority given how the demonstrating students have been attacked in the media and by the campus administration. But it needs to be said, very clearly, that no matter what the polls say—what the protesters did was entirely right and in the interests of the people's just struggle against the totally illegitimate, immoral, and unconstitutional practice of stop-and-frisk.

An open forum was called by the Brown administration for the following evening in an attempt to regain control of the situation. It was attended by over 600 students, faculty, and administrators.

Jenny Li invited attendees to recite with her the group's chant with a call-and-response format. "Asking tough questions is not enough," she said. "Brown is complicit. We stand in solidarity with the Providence anti-racism movement, and all those impacted by racial profiling."

Li said she and many other students felt emotionally "triggered" by Kelly's presence, adding that protesters considered their shutdown of the talk a "win."

Another student directed her comments to Brown University President Christina Paxson. "Ray Kelly is a terrorist, and he's terrorizing our communities." She added, "Until you feel terrorism in your life, I don't think you have the right to speak on this subject."

Students' comments throughout the forum were punctuated by snapping and applause.

Many students said they felt personally offended by Kelly's presence and believed the university should not have invited him to campus.

After the forum, in a blatant attempt to quash the potential for growing dissent on the campus, President Paxson sent an open letter to the entire Brown community threatening administrative action against protesting students. After having to acknowledge that the students took this action as a moral imperative, Paxson went on the offensive in her letter:

"We must develop and adhere to norms of behavior that recognize the value of protest and acknowledge the imperative of the free exchange of ideas within a university. This view is laid out in the Brown Code of Student Conduct, which all students indicate acceptance before enrolling. The section on ‘Protest and Demonstration Guidelines' states the following:

"'Protest is a necessary and acceptable means of expression within the Brown community. However, protest becomes unacceptable when it obstructs the basic exchange of ideas. Such obstruction is a form of censorship, no matter who initiates it or for what reasons.'" (emphasis in original)

Following this, Paxson announced in the letter that she was establishing a "Committee on the Events of October 29th" charged to "identify issues that may have contributed to this disruption," and added that: "After findings from the first phase of the Committee's work are complete, we will determine whether individuals or organizations involved should be referred to the University's established processes for resolving alleged violations of the Code of Student Conduct."

This is an outrageous threat and attack. One student responded in the Herald:

"I was taught at Brown that if my idea truly is better, I should feel comfortable matching it up against the best possible form of my opponent's argument. Instead, Paxson has proved the protesters' point that those with privilege and power have plenty of available platforms to advocate for their ideas, while others are limited to ‘persistent interruption.'"

At a time when college students are being force-fed a steady diet of moderating their convictions, lowering their expectation, and finding ways to brand themselves and market their ideas, these students at Brown have taken a very courageous and necessary stand that has already sent ripples throughout society. They are setting a real example for others to follow—and they need to be upheld, supported, and defended.

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