It’s been a full four months since then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly headed to Brown University to deliver a lecture on “proactive policing,” and instead was driven from the stage by student hecklers displeased with his policies on stop-and-frisk. Kelly has since moved on, working as a “distinguished visiting fellow” at the Council on Foreign Relations and, soon, as a special adviser to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s planned new school on homeland security and emergency preparedness.
But Brown University, in the grand liberal arts tradition of discussing every single thing to death and beyond, is still parsing the meaning of the Ray Kelly Heckling Incident, even appointing a ten-person committee to explore what happened that afternoon. Last week, the committee released the first half of a two-part report, which outlines everything that happened from the moment the lecture was announced to the time Kelly touched down in his NYPD-funded helicopter to speak.
The committee, made up of professors and current students, found that Kelly was invited to speak back in May, and promised a “small reception with a select group of students” prior to the talk. It adds that Kelly wasn’t offered any kind of honorarium to give the talk, and that when he accepted, he told Brown officials that he’d be arriving via helicopter, raising the question of where one lands a helicopter on a college campus.
Non-select students quickly made their displeasure with the choice of Kelly known when the talk was announced in early October. A Brown alumnus promptly emailed Professor Marion Orr, the director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, the campus department hosting the lecture, to object to Kelly’s “targeting of Arab and Muslim people” and his “unprecedented levels of constitutional violations of New Yorkers, particularly young Black men, through his stop-and-frisk policies.” The alumnus asked if anyone would be on hand to deliver a “counterpoint” to Kelly’s remarks (no).
The counterpoint committee soon organized itself, though, in the form of undergraduate students affiliated with various activist groups, including Direct Actions for Rights and Equality (DARE) and Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM). A student emailed the Taubman center on October 23, asking to meet with whoever had chosen Kelly as a speaker. The next day, students and faculty started circulating a petition asking that the talk be cancelled, and that any fee paid to Kelly would be donated to anti-police brutality and racial profiling organizations instead. It also demanded more transparency in the process of selecting Taubman speakers. The petition garnered about 500 signatures.
By October 24, Marissa Quinn, Brown’s Vice President for Student and Public Affairs, had gotten involved, who passed word to Brown president Christina Paxson that the student groups were getting rather restive. A conversation by speakerphone between a student protester spokesperson and Professor Orr didn’t yield any results. Nor did a meeting two days later between a student organizer and numerous campus officials, including the head of Public Safety. The student was told that the speech wouldn’t be cancelled, but that another event could be held later in the year to talk about “other perspectives on the controversial topic of stop-and-frisk.”
The student, apparently unimpressed with that offer, told the university officials that the protest would probably proceed. The officials “reviewed with the student the section from the Code of Student Conduct regarding protest,” and the meeting ended. That night, the students held a vigil on racial profiling and police brutality, followed by a meeting on their planned protest tactics, which were “to interrupt the Commissioner intermittently” with questions and statistics about stop and frisk.
Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. Protesters arrived at the lecture hall where the talk was to be held at 3:15 the next day, October 29, 45 minutes before the lecture was to begin. Also in attendance: numerous “uniformed state and local police.” The tension in the room was palpable, the committee writes, and not alleviated by Professor Orr’s reading of a statement that while protest “is a necessary and acceptable means of
expression within the Brown community, protests or demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to peaceful assembly and the free exchange of ideas or that interfere with the rights of others to attend a function of the University cannot be tolerated.”
A moment later, Kelly rose to speak. Twenty-five minutes of booing and arguing ensued. At one point during the chaos, he was heard telling school administrators, “I want to make it clear that you’re cancelling this event. I’m willing to speak.” Not long after, two school officials announced the lecture was cancelled and kicked everyone out of the hall.
The committee writes, in conclusion, that “complex circumstances” led to the protest, adding, “It is this Committee’s view that there are many lessons to be learned from this episode.”
It certainly hasn’t dampened Kelly’s enthusiasm for public speaking. In December, he signed a reported five-figure deal with a talent agency, 5th Avenue’s Greater Talent Network. Greater Talent’s head told the Daily News that Kelly is expected to be in “high demand.” The second half of the Brown committee’s incident report will be published sometime this spring.
The full report from the Brown committee is on the following page.