On October 29th there were two events.

At one, a New York City police commissioner was shouted down. The lecture hall in which he had been invited to speak and the street outside were crowded with angry, offended, frustrated people who did not share his views and were there to let him know it. Their story has been told, and they’ve been criticized and defended plenty already, but theirs wasn’t the only story in the room.

In the annex outside the lecture hall were other people who did not share the police commissioner’s views, but who wanted to hear what he had to say and how he would respond to their questions. As the shouting in the lecture hall continued, the organizers of the event asked the audience to vote on whether Kelly should be allowed to speak. The shouting did not subside, but in the seats beside the shouting people, and in the annex, hands quietly went up.

Across campus was another event, and hands were also going up. Another room was filled with disagreeing people, but after two hours of intense debate those same people reached a consensus. They voted unanimously, from all points on the political spectrum, to ask UCS to speak out against the influence of money in politics.

Brown is an angry place right now. Students are angry with President Paxson for ignoring their voice on coal divestment, and they are angry at an administration that seems to be rubbing salt in that fresh wound by giving a microphone to a man whose views they detest. President Paxson is angry that a vocal minority would have the gall to shut down what could have been an intense but informative discussion. Some are just angry because it’s been a hard couple of weeks. Every person at Brown right now seems to have an extremely good reason for their frustration. And many have taken the effort to express it, with extreme eloquence in a lot of cases.

To want to hear a dissenting voice is not the same as agreeing with it.

But the fact is that a lot of people don’t align themselves totally with the protestors. The people in the annex raised their hands to hear Kelly speak, and it’s important for them—and everyone else—to know that the alternative to anger, anger so strong that it turns people out in droves, isn’t just compliance. There is room for discussion and debate even in circumstances as polarizing as this, maybe not to resolve differences between factions, but at the very least to give those who are still undecided the chance to form their own conclusions. They deserve that right. To want to hear a dissenting voice is not the same as agreeing with it.

Those who protested feel alienated and ignored by the administration, and in their response they have alienated and ignored others. But that is not the only way this story has to go; an alternative was presenting itself at the same time that things on campus came to a head. Even on the angriest day in a long time on campus, members of a small group of people were listening to each other. And they’re going to keep going to, in meetings and personal conversations. Those shouted down in the annex, and all those on campus who feel perpetually ignored by the administration or by their peers, should take heart in that.

Most everyone seems to agree that Tuesday was not our university’s finest hour. I’ve heard many of my friends express some sort of embarrassment for being affiliated with Brown after the Ray Kelly event was shut down because of unruly protestors. But my shame stems not from the fact that a bunch of Ivy League liberals shouted down an authority figure with whom they disagreed, but from the fact that the university invited Kelly to speak at all.

Allow me first to say that I am not speaking on behalf of any of the protestors. I was unable to attend the Kelly event and know of what happened only from others’ stories. Further, I admit that I am skeptical about whether shutting down the event by shouting down the speakers was the most effective means of making the point. That said, it is important to distinguish between objecting to the university’s legitimizing racism and infringing upon the sacred freedoms of speech and thought — and judging by the reactions I’ve seen and heard from my peers, most of those who were offended by the protest are failing to understand the difference.

It is easy to cast the protestors as stubborn illiberal liberals who seek to stifle the opinions of those with whom they disagree. Perhaps for a minority of them that is true. But Kelly, best known for his association with the New York City Police Department’s “stop-and-frisk” racial profiling practices, does not just represent a competing ideology. It’s not just that his views and policies are wrong, it’s that they are based on fundamental racial prejudices that have no place in intellectual discourse.

By doing so for Ray Kelly, Brown University offered this legitimacy to a man who is best known for judging people by the color of their skin.

It is an honor to be invited to speak at an Ivy League university. Just by association, the scholars and luminaries who are chosen to be our guests of honor are lent a unique ethos. For an outsider, to be honored with prestige in academia is a privilege that (in theory) only the most intellectual, inspirational, and truly exceptional enjoy. When Brown University invites someone to speak on campus, we are endorsing him or her as someone whose views are worthy of intellectual discussion and debate at the highest level. By doing so for Ray Kelly, Brown University offered this legitimacy to a man who is best known for judging people by the color of their skin.

You have a right to be racist in this country. If you think certain groups of people are better or more righteous than others, that’s your prerogative. But let’s call it what it is. And bigotry has no place in the most inclusive, open, and accepting community of people I have ever been a part of. “Racism is not up for debate,” one protestor shouted. But according to Brown University, it is.

Ron Paul wasn’t treated this way when he came to campus a few months ago. If Ted Cruz or Paul Ryan came to Brown there might be controversy, but surely each would be allowed to have his say. Why? Because, for whatever objections our students might have to their ideas, there is room for debate. They are thoughtful people who (when they’re not speaking in sound-bites) have interesting and substantive things to contribute to discussions of the biggest issues we face today. Say what you want about their approaches to policy, but their views are not fundamentally based on a distrust of people who are different from themselves.

Would it be appropriate for Brown to pay and give an official platform to Fred Phelps, the head of the Westboro Baptist Church? What about Thomas Robb, National Director of the Ku Klux Klan? Or Jeff Schoep, Commander of the National Socialist Movement? Each of these men has the unalienable right to speak out about what he believes in — including on the street corner across from Faunce, where in my time at Brown several intolerant groups have come to tell us that we’re all going to Hell — but because their views are all based on bigotry and hatred they have no place in the world of intellectual debate.

I realize the potential danger in dismissing some opinions as illegitimate (as a member of the Green Party I am no stranger to the feeling of having my views tossed aside as irrelevant). But when it comes to inviting public figures to speak at campus events, it is fair to expect a certain standard of sensibleness from our honored guests. And saying that the people who whom our university lends legitimacy must have their opinions based in something other than bigotry is not an unreasonable demand.

If I had attended the Kelly event, I don’t know whether or not I would have joined the shouting. On the one hand, it worked, it became a national story (Brown might not come out looking very good, but neither does Kelly) and I am proud to have seen civil disobedience in action on campus. On the other hand, even if it was justified I think it is fair to question the protestors’ methods. Mahatma Gandhi’s doctrine of satyagraha, which also inspired Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, was based not in anger but in love — these great leaders knew that only compassion could ease the hatred in their oppressors’ hearts. Regrettably, it seems that lesson has been lost on the Brown community.

I don’t know that I agree with the protestors’ actions on Tuesday. But I am far, far more upset by the fact that our university has implicitly legitimized racism as an intellectually defensible point of view. And it is as unfair as it is incorrect to describe the protestors’ frustration with this endorsement of bigotry as a desire to censor free speech.

While the anger that charged the events leading to the premature end of Ray Kelly’s lecture yesterday was justified, holding the intellectual rights of fellow students hostage was not. Wrestling Commissioner Kelly from the stage stripped other attendees of their right to listen and moreover, undermined the goals outlined by the protestors themselves. The demonstration was a profound misunderstanding of the lecture’s purpose, and by extension, an oversight of more powerful alternative responses to racial profiling. It puts thousands of Brown students in a box without their consent. A coalition largely outnumbered by the student population – bolstered by activists completely unaffiliated with Brown – should not be able to limit the right of everyone else to hear political viewpoints, even problematic ones. To do so is to cast doubt on the intellectual capability of one’s peers to further understand the reasoning behind these policing strategies, and then to decry their injustice.

The disruption empowered a few voices at the expense of silencing many, and unnecessarily so, because the voices of the protestors certainly could have been heard on terms respectful to the free speech of other students attending the lecture. Such an outcome is unacceptable in any intellectual ecosystem that values collective growth. The school’s reputation as a bastion for open-mindedness now appears sullied, but it’s important to recognize that this action is by no means indicative of the university as a whole.

Marian Orr, the director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy, has devoted the entirety of his twenty-year academic career to researching the plight of marginalized communities in urban politics. According to Jamelle Watson-Daniels ’16, who spoke to Professor Orr shortly after the lecture was cancelled, “As a black man, and also as an intellectual specifically studying strategies of political change, his hope was that Commissioner Kelly would be challenged by the intellectual capacity of individuals who are at this school.”

Though the Taubman Center framed the event poorly and failed to explain in concrete terms their motives for bringing Kelly to Campus, it was clearly not Orr’s intention to offer the Commissioner a one-sided platform to condone systemic racism.

The director’s introductory words alluded to the philosophy of Alexander Meiklejohn, an alumnus, former dean, and the namesake for Brown’s first-year advising program. Meiklejohn espoused the right of everyone to hear all viewpoints, believing that change arises through informed intellectual discourse, not through stifling offensive or ignorant opinions. Even if Commissioner Kelly’s “proactive” policing strategies are implicitly racist, outwardly suppressing bigotry breeds the most inwardly stubborn form of obstinacy. When racism is not publicly confronted, it doesn’t disappear, it festers within. Therefore, to compel change requires adopting the bigot’s terms for debate: listening to his logic, even if it may be perverse. Without that understanding, both parties harden in their respective corners, looking down on one another, refusing to search for common ground. Discourse with Commissioner Kelly does not lend legitimacy to his racism; it’s the only tool that can aptly fight it. Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio cannot simply refuse to engage his opponents on stop and frisk, however unreasonable their stance. His campaign staff knows that without dialogue, a more humane policing policy will never come to fruition.

While challenging Ray Kelly in a Brown lecture hall is unlikely to engender change in the NYPD’s policing strategies, silencing his side of the story nonetheless impedes the evolution of public discourse.

While challenging Ray Kelly in a Brown lecture hall is unlikely to engender change in the NYPD’s policing strategies, silencing his side of the story nonetheless impedes the evolution of public discourse. Offering Commissioner Kelly a public forum with a designated space for questions would have assured the audience exposure to the best arguments for his policies, and just as importantly, the best refutations thereof. The demonstrators directly hindered their own cause by robbing attendees of the opportunity to fully inform their opinions and thus become better advocates for minorities oppressed by systemic targeting. Instead, driving him out of town empowered Ray Kelly with further ammunition to label the community ignorant.

Protesting racially motivated policing strategies deserves admiration. So does a candlelight vigil expressing solidarity with minorities victimized by discrimination. But infringing upon the intellectual rights of others by drowning out a speaker in the midst of expressing gratitude to the family of a deceased alumnus is unacceptable. Of equal concern, the protestors’ incendiary chant branding the entire NYPD as racist, sexist, and anti-gay verged on slander, and conflated the police force’s orders with their personal morality. For the same reasons that we reject Kelly’s policy of generalizing people of color, we should not generalize the work his staff does for the city of New York. This is not a black and white issue, and the police force is not black and white either. Not long ago officers wearing that uniform plunged into the smoke of burning towers felled by terrorists to save the lives of helpless New Yorkers – men and women, white and of color, gay and straight alike.

Demonstrators justified their behavior on the premise that Ray Kelly’s policing practices don’t even merit debate. Why is that value judgment theirs to make on behalf of Brown as a whole? How is it remotely possible to draw a clear standard for when it is or is not legitimate to suppress speech, if indeed some viewpoints are offensive enough to warrant such extreme retaliation? And what exactly did shouting down Ray Kelly accomplish, beyond fostering a widespread discussion of this community’s values?

During the anti-apartheid movement, beloved former president Ruth Simmons faced a comparable predicament. As the fiercest of advocates for marginalized communities, she initially refused to listen to a fellow student’s argument for apartheid. Her 2001 inaugural speech expressed remorse: “I have never forgotten these simple words spoken in opposition to my own. They taught me more about the need for discourse in the learning process than all the books I subsequently read. And I have regretted for 30 years that I did not engage this woman’s assertions instead of dismissing her as racist.”

Brunonians, we can do better.

A new BPR media video captures the moment that protestors shouted down NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, inside the amphitheater at Brown University where Kelly had taken the stage to speak. Hundreds turned out to protest Kelly for what many view as racially charged police tactics. University officials have not yet released the official video of the public event, titled “Proactive Policing In America’s Biggest City.”