Incivility at Brown

Ben Cohen
The students chanted, the students yelled, and eventually they prevented New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly from speaking. The Taubmann Center at Brown University had invited Ray Kelley to discuss his department's controversial policing strategies, but the protestors disinvited him. It's hard to imagine a scenario where shouting down an invited speaker would be appropriate, but in this case it was a particularly poor choice, since Ray Kelly was one of the few people who could really shed light on the issues raised in Judge Scheindlin's ruling against the city.

As in other recent situations, the media's slanted coverage of these issues contributed to public outrage. The media led people to believe that New York City has a law called "stop-and-frisk," which allows cops to accost and search people without probable cause, and that they use this law to harass innocent minorities. No such law exists, but you wouldn't know that from watching programming like "The Young Turks." After Judge Schiendlin ruled against the city in Floyd v. New York, reporter Ana Kasparian pondered why judge Shiendlin tried to reform "stop-and-frisk" instead of doing away with it completely.

Kasparian and other reporters should have known that "stop-and-frisk" isn't a law but a widespread police practice, sustained by the U.S Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld the power of police officers to stop a person, even when they did not have probable cause to arrest them for a specific crime, if the officer reasonably suspected that a crime had just occurred, was in progress, or was about to happen. The court also upheld that protective frisks of stopped persons, whom the officer reasonably believed to be armed and dangerous, are constitutional. What made New York's policy controversial is that they encouraged their police officers to use their powers under Terry v. Ohio aggressively, more aggressively than other cities, and perhaps too aggressively.

While there are numerous reasons to be skeptical of judge Scheindlin's ruling, (chief among them that a three-judge panel ordered a new trial and removed Scheindlin herself from the case), she never found "stop-and-frisk" unconstitutional. She found the city and the police department liable because, in her view, they turned a blind eye to a pattern of civil-rights violations by officers. According to her ruling, officers routinely violated the Fourth Amendment by stopping people without reasonable suspicion, and searching them without any tangible reason to believe they were armed and dangerous. She also found that the stops were conducted in a racially discriminatory fashion. The city was not found liable for ordering these civil-rights violations, but for knowing about them and not taking appropriate measures to stop them.

Should he choose to speak candidly on these matters, Ray Kelly is one of the few people who could really shed light on the issues raised at trial. He could also present his side of the story, which should be of interest to anyone following this case. Of course, the protestors have already concluded that Ray Kelly is a racist and a liar, so we have nothing to gain from hearing him speak. I'm glad the protestors are looking out for us.

The students chanted, the students yelled, and eventually they prevented New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly from speaking. The Taubmann Center at Brown University had invited Ray Kelley to discuss his department's controversial policing strategies, but the protestors disinvited him. It's hard to imagine a scenario where shouting down an invited speaker would be appropriate, but in this case it was a particularly poor choice, since Ray Kelly was one of the few people who could really shed light on the issues raised in Judge Scheindlin's ruling against the city.

As in other recent situations, the media's slanted coverage of these issues contributed to public outrage. The media led people to believe that New York City has a law called "stop-and-frisk," which allows cops to accost and search people without probable cause, and that they use this law to harass innocent minorities. No such law exists, but you wouldn't know that from watching programming like "The Young Turks." After Judge Schiendlin ruled against the city in Floyd v. New York, reporter Ana Kasparian pondered why judge Shiendlin tried to reform "stop-and-frisk" instead of doing away with it completely.

Kasparian and other reporters should have known that "stop-and-frisk" isn't a law but a widespread police practice, sustained by the U.S Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld the power of police officers to stop a person, even when they did not have probable cause to arrest them for a specific crime, if the officer reasonably suspected that a crime had just occurred, was in progress, or was about to happen. The court also upheld that protective frisks of stopped persons, whom the officer reasonably believed to be armed and dangerous, are constitutional. What made New York's policy controversial is that they encouraged their police officers to use their powers under Terry v. Ohio aggressively, more aggressively than other cities, and perhaps too aggressively.

While there are numerous reasons to be skeptical of judge Scheindlin's ruling, (chief among them that a three-judge panel ordered a new trial and removed Scheindlin herself from the case), she never found "stop-and-frisk" unconstitutional. She found the city and the police department liable because, in her view, they turned a blind eye to a pattern of civil-rights violations by officers. According to her ruling, officers routinely violated the Fourth Amendment by stopping people without reasonable suspicion, and searching them without any tangible reason to believe they were armed and dangerous. She also found that the stops were conducted in a racially discriminatory fashion. The city was not found liable for ordering these civil-rights violations, but for knowing about them and not taking appropriate measures to stop them.

Should he choose to speak candidly on these matters, Ray Kelly is one of the few people who could really shed light on the issues raised at trial. He could also present his side of the story, which should be of interest to anyone following this case. Of course, the protestors have already concluded that Ray Kelly is a racist and a liar, so we have nothing to gain from hearing him speak. I'm glad the protestors are looking out for us.