Kelly, commissioner since 2002, had intended to speak about the department's "proactive policing" in New York City, which -- with policies like stop-and-frisk -- has brought criticism from the African American community and a federal court ruling in August that the department's policies were unconstitutional.
"Asking tough questions is not enough!" one student-aged attendee shouted during Kelly's remarks, rising from his seat with his fist in the air and written remarks in his hand. Other protesters rose after him in an apparently coordinated protest. Other demonstrators outside the building also chanted, "No justice, no peace! No racist police!"
Kelly's talk ended and the auditorium was cleared after almost 30 minutes of heckling, drawing a stern rebuke to students from Brown University President Christina H. Paxson, who called the events "a sad day" for the Ivy League school.
"Many students and other community members who strongly oppose policies and initiatives of the New York City Police Department were prepared to present their perspectives and arguments to Commissioner Kelly" during an hourlong question-and-answer session after Kelly's remarks, Paxson said in a statement. "Not only was Commissioner Kelly denied the right to speak, members of our community were denied their right to challenge him."
Paxson said she would contact Kelly to express her apologies about the heckling.
An editorial in Brown's student newspaper, the Daily Herald, strongly criticized Kelly's policies but also scolded students for breaking up the lecture.
"Kelly should be given a platform to speak, and students who oppose him should be given the opportunity to ask questions and present counter-arguments," the editorial stated. "The evidence against the stop-and-frisk program is incontrovertible — and we are certain that students who challenge Kelly on factual grounds will meet greater success than those who focus on trying to keep the event from taking place at all."
That belief was strongly echoed by the flood of letters to the Daily Herald that opposed the demonstrators' methods, except one from a graduate who said the oppressiveness of Brown's policies for people of color justified the shutdown.
"It is the definition of tolerance to be intolerant of intolerance," wrote Chris Norris-LeBlanc. "As an alum, I am proud to be part of the community that booed Kelly offstage. Nobody needs to entertain arguments that assert this in any way prevents open discourse."
See a video of the protest below.