Liberal students at Brown University crashed a speech by New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and interrupted him ceaselessly, giving administrators no choice but to cancel the event.
Kelly was slated to talk about New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy, which he believes has deterred crime. But students who oppose the policy were intent on hijacking his speech.
“Our goal was for the lecture to be canceled from the beginning,” said Irene Rojas-Carroll, a Brown student who helped organize the protest, according to The Brown Daily Herald.
Before the event, students waved signs carrying messages such as “(Ray)cist,” “Stop police brutality,” and “Brown is complicit.”
When it was time for the speech, the protesters filed into the auditorium and continuously interrupted Brown administrator Marion Orr, who introduced Kelly. When Kelly began to speak, the protesters started chanting in unison and pump their fists in the air.
Kelly was prepared to answer questions from students after the speech, but this didn’t satisfy the mob.
No one could hear Kelly over the protesters, and none of the Brown officials present could convince the crowd to quiet down and listen to the speech.
“I have never seen in my 15 years at Brown the inability to have a dialogue,” said Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and university relations, in a statement.
Jenny Li, a Brown student and protest leader, was delighted to hear this, and told the crowd after the event that the administration’s disapproval was evidence that their heckling tactics worked.
She called the protest “a powerful demonstration of free speech.”
That comment mystified Robert Shibley, vice president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, who told The Daily Caller that the protesters’ actions were the antithesis of free speech.
“Shouting down a speaker you don’t agree with is not free speech,” said Shibley in an interview with The DC. “Respect for free speech demands that the audience actually hear the message.”
Though Brown is a private university, and therefore entitled to create whatever speech policies it likes, Shibley said the university has wisely promised that free speech rights be respected. By using the “heckler’s veto,” the protesters deprived other students’ of their right to hear Kelly’s comments.
“The heckler’s veto is a form of vigilante censorship,” said Shibley.
Shibley lamented that censorship was the first recourse of students who disliked a particular view. He blamed modern college culture for promoting the idea that unpopular beliefs should be silenced–directly contradicting principles enshrined in the Constitution.
“Students have been receiving the message for years that there is an honor or moral necessity to censor those with whom you disagree,” he said. “They want to silence the people who have bad views.”
University President Christina Paxson condemned the protesters’ tactics.
“The conduct of disruptive members of the audience is indefensible and an affront both to civil democratic society and to the university’s core values of dialogue and the free exchange of views,” she said in a statement, according to USA Today.
But protest leaders are promising more of the same in the future.
“They have not seen this in 15 years, so we will show them,” said Li.