Commissioner Kelly and the discussion worth having

by Ben Kutner

Brown lost its balance yesterday. The healthy give and take between dissenting opinions and the ability to voice those opinions was disrupted during New York City Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly’s speech.

I won’t use this space to delve into the politics of the issue because to do so would be to negate the point I’m trying to make. Political opinion and the right to discuss one’s political opinion are two entirely separate matters. When the necessary space between them becomes encroached upon, discussion dissolves into cacophony.

Students chose to interrupt Kelly at various intervals throughout the speech, defending their efforts as “protest.” But let’s reconsider what constitutes “protest.” To protest is to express one’s discontent with an issue at hand, using means necessitated by the lack of opportunity to openly discuss an issue. However, when the doors to discussion are wide open, an act of “protest” such as organized shouting is rendered not simply unnecessary but tasteless and inconsiderate.

Since I arrived at Brown three years ago, the school has left me with a reverence for open discussion and conversation as the most effective means for enacting change. If an issue isn’t examined from each side, our own opinions remain intact and calcify, depriving us of the profound capacity for change.

It is clear that many of the protestors believed that Brown should not have brought Kelly to speak. But to deprive a dissenting view of a platform for expression is an act of defeatism. It is the convenient route to take — a method of dodging the need for the exchange of ideas, which by its nature necessitates discomfort.

It is maddeningly easy to shout. There’s nothing to it except yelling, really, and it becomes much easier when the shouter is caught in the middle of a chorus of voices. But Brown students don’t need to hide behind the power of a mob, and this form of expressing oneself is degrading when it occurs at an event that offers a sizable time for open discussion. It forfeits the individuality that is inextricably bound to the school’s philosophy and passion.

We have particular voices, different in tenor and resonance from the next. Our words are most wisely and poignantly expressed when they are spoken, and not yelled, between two individuals.

Ben Kutner is the founder and Editor in Chief of the Brown Politics Memo

Photo of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly by MTAPhotos