Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Melvin Watt was invited by the HLS’s Hal Scott to speak Monday evening about federal housing policy. But “housing rights” activists (not affiliated with the university) had different plans.
Members of the group “City Life” interrupted Watt mere minutes into his comments, demanding principal reduction on home mortgages.
City Life organizer M. Antonio Ennis said Watt was targeted because his group “had helped put Watt in office two years ago after Watt promised to make principal reduction a centerpiece of his agenda.”
Harvard Law’s Scott characterized the protesters as “screaming,” and after Watt had tried to respond – unsuccessfully – to the activists, he and Scott left the meeting.
According to Scott, the (two plainclothes) Harvard Police officers in attendance “did not ask the protesters to leave,” an apparent violation of university policy.
“An HLS administrator asked the protesters to stop disrupting the event. The event ended shortly thereafter,” HUPD spokesperson Steven G. Catalano wrote in an email. “As a matter of policy we are not going to get into specifics on what our officers did.”
Scott expressed disappointment that Watt was unable to finish the discussion, and raised concerns over security protocol in place at Harvard. Scott said he thinks security should have removed the protesters.
“I would hope Harvard’s policies are that we don’t allow people to come and disrupt events,” he said. “Where do we draw the line? Can these people come into classrooms, and we do nothing?… I was appalled, quite frankly, that security didn’t do more.”
According to the Law School’s official Protest and Dissent Guidelines, “The speaker is entitled to communicate her or his message to the audience during her or his allotted time, and the audience is entitled to hear the message and see the speaker during that time. A dissenter must not substantially interfere with a speaker’s ability to communicate or an audience’s ability to see and hear the speaker.”
The last section of the Protest Guidelines says that a moderator/facilitator has the last word on what to do in case of an event disruption, including “whether to eject a disrupter from the room.”
Apparently, Prof. Scott did not have this “official” designation, and obviously the police didn’t think they had it, either.
But … why exactly was the police duo on hand if they didn’t even attempt to (at least) quiet the protesters?