Ray Kelly and Effective Protest

The other day Ray Kelly was giving a talk at Brown, and was so persistently heckled and shouted at that he eventually gave up and walked out. This has inspired some interesting conversations between those who say Kelly’s freedom of speech was infringed and the protesters did their cause a disservice by discrediting themselves, and those who argue that Kelly got just what he deserved.

I quite liked this discussion at The Nation over this, and find myself torn between the two sides. On the one hand, though I wouldn’t go quite so far as to call Kelly a “ruthless paramilitary comandant,” as Jesse Myerson does, he is definitely closer to that than he is to the average’ person’s conception of a police commissioner, with his dragnet surveillance of New York Muslims and stop-and-frisk. I see the attraction in people cutting through the comfortable, mind-numbing platitudes of the establishment, which automatically sanctions whatever gun-bearing elites do, whether they’re creators of overtly racist mass profiling schemes, or overseeing a network of secret torture centers.

On the other hand, Richard Yeselson has a point that shouting down one’s opponents is a tactic which can turn on the user with surprising speed. Leftist history is riddled with pointless holier-than-thou inquisitions. There are a lot of leftist folks out there (common on Twitter especially) who seem to regard most any compromise to public opinion, or granting opponents an assumption of good faith, or sometimes even engaging with the political system at all to be not just wrong, but a betrayal. Instead reaching the correct pitch of performative anger (and being blocked by lots of people you don’t like) is the currency of the realm. That’s a generalization of a particular trend rather than a description of anyone in particular (even this guy can be nice sometimes), but I think it’s fair.

(To be clear, it’s not only leftists who do this.)

I understand the visceral appeal of giving Ray Kelly the completely lack of respect and legitimacy he so richly deserves. But it’s Bill de Blasio who is actually going to give him the boot. That’s worth keeping in mind.

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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is national correspondent for the Week, and a former web editor for the Washington Monthly.