Brown may review policy after NYPD Kelly silenced

  • Article by: MICHELLE R. SMITH
  • Associated Press
  • October 30, 2013 - 6:00 PM

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Brown University may have to consider changing its policies on public lectures after New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly was shouted down by community members and students as he tried to give a speech about his department's stop-and-frisk policy, a spokeswoman for the Ivy League school said Wednesday.

Spokeswoman Marisa Quinn said it is valuable to have such events open to the public, but they need to be conducted as a free exchange of ideas. Both Brown students and members of the general public disrupted the event, she said.

Brown President Christina Paxson said in a letter to Brown students, faculty and staff that she planned to contact Kelly to "convey my deepest regret for the manner in which he was treated." Quinn said Wednesday the two have spoken.

Paxson also called a meeting of the Brown community Wednesday evening.

Kelly declined to comment Tuesday and again Wednesday through spokesmen for the New York Police Department.

The NYPD contends stop and frisk has made the city safer. But a federal judge recently ruled the practice of stopping individuals who the police think look suspicious violated the civil rights of minorities. The city is appealing.

Kelly had just begun to speak Tuesday when protesters began shouting and would not let him continue. The disruption went on for about 30 minutes before university officials put an end to the event and cleared the room.

Students opposed to Kelly's visit first petitioned the university to cancel the lecture, said Jenny Li, a Brown student who helped organize the protest. When the university did not cancel the event, "we decided to cancel it for them," Li said. She called the protest "a powerful demonstration of free speech."

Brown's public lectures are typically free and open to the larger community, and protests have disrupted talks there before. A few years ago, a man who did not attend Brown threw something at then-Rep. Patrick Kennedy during a talk. In another instance, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman had a cream pie thrown in his face by two people, at least one of whom was a student. In both those instances, the talks continued.

Ross Cheit, a Brown professor and member of the faculty at its Taubman Center for Public Policy, which hosted the lecture, said that while Kelly expected some protests, he appeared to be taken by surprise that he wasn't allowed to speak.

Also, contrary to what some demonstrators claimed Tuesday, Kelly was not paid for his appearance and was never going to get an honorarium, Cheit said.

Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare, who attended the Tuesday event, said Wednesday he wanted to hear Kelly speak and was disappointed he didn't get to hear him answer questions about the NYPD practice.

"When you shut people down, whether you're pro or con, we all lose as a community," Pare said.

Pare said his own department had discussed practicing stop and frisk after a rash of shootings, but eventually rejected the idea.

"From some readings and some perspectives, it has been successful at reducing crime, but at what cost?" he said.

The Associated Press on Wednesday attempted to contact several people involved in the protest, but they either did not return messages or they declined to comment.

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