Freedom of speech or Freedom to silence?

In light of the Taubman Center of Public Policy and American Institutions’ decision to host Ray Kelly, police commissioner of the city of New York and creator of the controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy, members of the Brown and Providence communities have come together to demand his lecture be cancelled. In response, others within the Brown community have defended the lecture on the grounds of freedom of speech. Those who oppose the cancellation have argued opposition is an act of censorship. Students have argued this lecture should instead be used as an opportunity to engage in dialogue and challenge Kelly by asking “tough questions” during the question and answer session after his talk.

But this lecture is not about creating a space for dialogue, nor has it ever been. Even Marion Orr, director of the Taubman Center, said in a phone conversation with students the event was “not designed for debate.” The center decided to showcase Kelly’s policies alone, effectively excluding other opinions on this issue.

There are innumerable stories of racial profiling and abuse due to stop-and-frisk. Minorities face prejudice, undue scrutiny and pressure because of Kelly’s ideology, which has spread around the country.

There are many students and community members who have been personally affected by racial profiling and police brutality. The psychological harm that will be inflicted on them by Kelly’s speech cannot be dismissed in the spirit of engaging with different perspectives. For those who have experienced criminalization based on the color of their skin, this is not simply an “intellectual debate.” Basic civil rights should never be up for debate.

Kelly’s institutional power has allowed him not only to express his views, but also to translate them into real policy. Each time he tells his story of “proactive policing,” he silences those who have experienced the violent repercussions of his ideas. Their stories of victimization and criminalization are the ones censored in mainstream media. Thus, rhetoric of “free speech” within this context only argues for the “freedom” to silence and mask the violence inflicted upon communities of color.

Therefore, we demand Kelly’s lecture be cancelled and the honorarium set aside for the lecture be donated to organizations working to end racial profiling and police brutality in Providence and New York. Canceling this event would be an act of resistance against the policies of Kelly and the censorship of marginalized stories. Through advocating for the cancellation, we stand in solidarity with the communities around the United States that have led campaigns to end racial profiling and police brutality.


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