How Is Free Speech Threatened in the Missouri Protests?

“I have a constitutional right to say something hurtful and stupid. It may not be appropriate, it may not be polite, it may not be wise, but it is constitutionally protected.”

By Rhonda Fanning & Laura Rice November 11, 2015 11:50 am, , ,

In the 1960s and 70s, American colleges were the locus of social and political change. By some measures, there’s a current resurgence of campus activism and the echoes are unmistakable. This time, however, it’s not entirely clear that concerned activists are reading from the same playbook.

At the University of Missouri, the president and system chancellor resigned amid demonstrations on campus over what activists saw as the administration’s inaction on incidents of campus racism.

Yesterday, a viral video of campus protesters showed what USA Today called a “mob of students and faculty members calling for ‘muscle'” to push back a student journalist who was trying to take pictures of a public protest.

In the video, assistant professor of media Melissa Click tries to grab the student journalist’s camera and then asks for help in physically removing him. Click has since issued apologies and resigned her courtesy appointment with the School of Journalism, but will still be a part of the communication department.

Meanwhile, the university’s police department sent an email to the entire university community asking people who witnessed hateful or hurtful speech to call police immediately, provide a detailed description of individuals involved, vehicle information if applicable, and a photo if possible.

Jeffery Mittman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Missouri, talks to the Standard about First Amendments rights.

“This is one of those situations where there’s a lot of complexities and nuances, and there’s not any of the answers,” Mittman says. “Yes, there is a climate of racism, there is a climate of racial inequality, and there is a history of exclusion of African American students.”

Mittman says the background needs to be addressed, but the question lies on how people should address the issues.

Listen to the full interview in the player above.