The First Amendment of the Constitution grants citizens of the United States the ability to have freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble and the right to petition their government. Student activists at University of Missouri this past week have used their first amendment rights and had success as their protests led to the resignation of university president, Tim Wolfe.
The student protests were over Wolfe’s poor handling of a number of racially driven incidents at the university including a swastika drawn in feces in a dorm and other abusive racially driven language directed at university students.
While the protests proved to be successful and are a clear demonstration of why first amendment rights are so important for all people across the country, there is another disturbing element to the protest that shut down the rights of another group, the press.
A video revealed that a student photographer, Tim Tai, was attempting to take photos of the protesters who were set up in tents on school ground. Tai was on assignment from ESPN, but was not allowed into the encampment because some members of the protest labeled it a “safe space” where the media was not allowed or wanted.
An assistant professor of mass media at University of Missouri, Melissa Click, was found in the video grabbing the videographer’s camera and calling for some “muscle over here.” Some members of the student protests were found in the video holding up their arms and hands to block the photographers’ and videographers’ access into the encampment as well.
This situation is disturbing because those journalism students and members of the media have just as much of a right to be present at the protest as the members do. Their role, whether it be for more well-known publications (like ESPN) or for their university’s journalism program, is important in documenting the events of the protest and those involved.
The First Amendment allows for both freedom of assembly and freedom of the press. It is not just to practice the rights of one without the other. It was especially embarrassing that a professor, Click, who is part of the mass media department of the university, must have forgotten some of the basic inalienable rights of people in the country.
Click, while trying to “protect” the safe space students had created, only made it worse for members of the protest. She created a whole different story that has been told and shared with the world and took away the actual meaning of the protest and the history that was created on Monday, Nov. 9 when president Tim Wolfe resigned in response to the student protests.
Click and some members of the protest blocked the ability of the media’s right to be part of the protest and in doing so took away from the main purpose of the protest. They made other media outlets focus on a story that should not have existed.
Other members of the protest later explained that they wanted to keep the press out of the encampment area so that the media did not spin their protest into a twisted narrative. While this is understandable, the actions of these protesters and Click have proven to create a negative spin on their own.
The First Amendment is vital for every member of society and cannot be limited to a specific group at a specific time.