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Letter to the Editor

By Sarah Benckart and Neil Peterman

In a recent editorial titled “Don’t Police Speech,” (November 4, 2013), The Crimson has pronounced last week’s disruptive protest at Brown against New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly HKS ’84 to be “ill-conceived” and—even worse!—“ill-mannered.” We thought the protest was quite well conceived and excellent; we’d have done the same as them.

Despite being “troubled” by the stop-and-frisk policy, The Crimson defends Kelly’s right to speak in the name of “freedom for the thought that we hate.” We disagree with the notion that Kelly was censored when members of Brown University and the surrounding community began challenging him. Kelly, by virtue of the powerful position he holds, has access to a “platform” whenever he wants one. His voice is already all over the press; harder to find are the voices of his critics.

The Crimson casts the problem with stop-and-frisk as one of “balance” between “incursions of liberty” against people of color on the one hand, and “maintaining order” on the other. But whose “order” is maintained by stop-and-frisk? Does a young black or Latino man feel that “everything is in order” after he’s been manhandled by a cop for no reason? Does this racial harassment leave communities of color with a sense of “good order”? Liberty is not to be traded for order; rather an order that threatens liberty is to be resisted, to borrow a phrase from Malcolm X, by any means necessary.

The Crimson writes, “Kelly has unquestionably reduced crime in New York City.” In fact, a number of detailed studiesdiscredit Kelly’s claims about the effectiveness of stop-and-frisk. Furthermore, reports have shown that NYPD crime reporting is replete with manipulation that makes its programs look more effective. One also wonders if the people of New York do not “question” the commissioner’s success, given that one of his few high-profile critics, Bill de Blasio,was just elected mayor in a landslide.

We must take issue with this contention that the ideal way to debate policy is by politely talking about whatever powerful people have decided to talk about according to their rules. Is it not clear that we have not a worse, but a far better debate on stop-and-frisk precisely because those who have been hitherto marginalized have forced themselves into the discussion? The Crimson editorial, with its “unquestionable” citations and identification of “order” with order for whites, is itself a demonstration of this basic inequality. And if one side of the debate is treated unequally from the start, all talk of protecting “free thought” is tendentious—one cannot protect what isn’t there.

We extend our solidarity, and our thanks, to the students and community members who protested Ray Kelly. If more were like them, we would have a better and freer society.

Neil Peterman, GSAS ’16

Sarah Benckart, HDS ’12

Cambridge, Mass.

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