News

Amid Boston Overdose Crisis, a Pair of Harvard Students Are Bringing Narcan to the Red Line

News

At First Cambridge City Council Election Forum, Candidates Clash Over Building Emissions

News

Harvard’s Updated Sustainability Plan Garners Optimistic Responses from Student Climate Activists

News

‘Sunroof’ Singer Nicky Youre Lights Up Harvard Yard at Crimson Jam

News

‘The Architect of the Whole Plan’: Harvard Law Graduate Ken Chesebro’s Path to Jan. 6

Editorials

Don’t Police Speech

Brown University protesters were wrong to silence Ray Kelly

By The Crimson Staff

Last Wednesday, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly HKS ’84 was scheduled to give a lecture on “Proactive Policing in America’s Biggest City” at Brown University. But in a move that we believe was ill-conceived and ill-mannered, a group of aggressive protestors shouted him down before he was able to speak.

We are troubled by stop-and-frisk, the policy that grants the officers of Kelly’s NYPD broad leeway to question “suspicious” individuals—the burden of this incursion on liberty falls far too heavily on African Americans and Hispanics for us to believe that it is justifiably balanced by a countervailing interest in maintaining order.

But Brown protestors were wrong to silence the police commissioner. While stop-and-frisk may or may not be unconstitutional (had they allowed Kelly to give his talk, protestors would have had the opportunity to challenge him on the contentious policy), Kelly has unquestionably reduced crime in New York City—the homicide rate has plunged to a record low. In light of his successful tenure, Ray Kelly of all people deserves a place in our public discourse.

The hearts of the students who yelled things like “racism is not up for debate” were in the right place: We’d much rather live in a society where the instinctive reaction to what seems like invidious racial discrimination is one of repugnance and not (as was the norm for so long in this country) tacit or enthusiastic acceptance. But we believe the protestors’ unwillingness to engage with someone who thinks differently—to instead muscle the opposition into silence—was disrespectful and ultimately misguided. In shouting Kelly down, the Brown protestors came off as open-minded to the point of intolerance—the caricature of the leftist protestor.

Indeed, all speech, not just that from someone of Kelly’s stature, should be met with a willingness to listen and engage, not obstruct. As Justice Oliver W. Holmes, Jr. wrote: “[I]f there is any principle in the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought—not free thought for those that agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” The Constitution, of course, limits government from obstructing speech. But the principle enshrined in the First Amendment ought to be valued and respected by citizens as well.

The sole reason not to let an individual make his or her case is out of concern that that case might prove convincing. As such, censorship—which is what the Brown protestors’ actions amounted to—is evidence not of righteousness or courage but of narrow-mindedness and fear.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags
Editorials