No Free Speech at Brown

A hundred or more excited students at Brown University shouted down New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly last night and prevented him from speaking on “Proactive Policing.”  Shutting down speakers whose messages are out of favor with the left is common. On campus, free speech is regularly trumped by leftist concerns–in this case resentment over New York’s stop-and-frisk policies.

The protesters don’t seem to know much about those policies. One carried a sign saying “Stop Police Brutality,” which may have been left over from some other rally–stop-and-frisk has nothing to do with police brutality. Another said, “Stop & Frisk Doesn’t Stop Crime.” Not so.  Reforms led by stop-and-frisk have reduced murders in New York City from 2000 a year to about 300 today. About 1700 New Yorkers each year, mostly blacks and Hispanics living in the highest crime areas, owe their lives to the program.

But as a higher education site, we are primarily concerned about lessons being taught on campus about the worthiness of preventing speakers whose views are not approved by the left. We will see how many faculty criticize the blocking of Kelly’s speech. To her credit, the President of Brown, Christina Paxson, deplored the blocking of Kelly’s talk. In a statement, she said: “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.” Good. But the next step is obvious enough. If she is serious about free speech, she will invite Kelly back and provide enough campus police to prevent the yahoos from shutting him down again.

John Leo

John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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