Protect freedom of press at Mizzou


Ji-Ho Lee

During the course of the past month, a series of disturbing events rattled Columbia. These incidents, which primarily took place at the University of Missouri —Columbia (UMC), bombarded the community with unprecedented drama and distress.
Many of the episodes were a result of protests, in which students and faculty, most notably Assistant Professor Melissa Click and staffer Janna Basler, participated. As a result of the debacle, the city of Columbia is investigating potential assault charges against Click.
The protesters’ opinions, which called for former UM system President Tim Wolfe’s resignation, were publicly displayed at the demonstrations — an action protected by the First Amendment right to petition and speech. Click, Basler and the supporting cast of students who surrounded them, however, would disallow reporters the same right that protected their actions.
Tim Tai and Mark Schierbecker were two such reporters. Both received aggressive requests from protesters to leave the scene and a large crowd of students attempted to push Tai from the area. Furthermore, Click controversially stated, “We need some muscle over here. Who wants to help me get this reporter [Schierbecker] out of here?”
Charges of assault have emerged.
The highly disturbing events that took place at the protests were not only embarrassing to students, faculty and the University, but were also an attack on the First Amendment. Not only is the charge against Click acceptable, but it is correct and should be extended to Basler, who also hindered Tai, Schierbecker and other journalists.
The First Amendment is too often taken for granted. Furthermore, it is a law so well known and respected that it is rarely publicly neglected. When such action occurs, however, the public and government officials fail to respond in a correct manner. As a result, city officials must take proper action to attend to the issue.
The reporters engaged in the incident were exercising their First Amendment rights of assembly, press and expression, which falls under the umbrella of speech. By inhibiting the reporters’ ability to accomplish their job, the protesters’ actions, although less severe and on a lesser magnitude, fall parallel to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, in which reporters who criticized the government were jailed.
When someone breaks a law, the penalty is criminal punishment or judicial oversight. This incident should be no different. The protesters, led by UMC employees, were committing a crime by preventing others from exercising their freedoms stated in the Bill of Rights. People must take action, not only to punish the criminal behavior, but also to teach younger generations about the importance of the Constitution and to ensure that similarly troublesome actions do not occur again.
The protesters must have forgotten that the most significant, valuable and influential law in the United States applies to everyone, even the people that they don’t agree with. As citizens of the city and the country, we have the tremendous gift of perspective. It is our responsibility to respect, honor and obey the laws set forth by government and address the situations when that fails to occur.
Photo Illustration by Neil Cathro and Cassi Viox