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Missouri Student Protesters' Actions Stir 1st Amendment Questions

  • VOA News

A woman identified as University of Missouri communications assistant professor Melissa Click is seen in a screenshot from a video shot by University of Missouri student photographer Mark Schierbecker, in Columbia, Mo., Nov. 9, 2015.

A woman identified as University of Missouri communications assistant professor Melissa Click is seen in a screenshot from a video shot by University of Missouri student photographer Mark Schierbecker, in Columbia, Mo., Nov. 9, 2015.

A video showing a student journalist's clash with University of Missouri protesters who tried to block his access in a public section of campus is fanning debate about freedom of the press and heaping scorn on a communications professor who seemingly encouraged protesters.

The video, by University of Missouri student photographer Mark Schierbecker Monday, was shot Monday, shortly after the university system's president and the Columbia campus' chancellor stepped down over what protesters saw as indifference to racial tensions at the school.

Student protests - led by a group called Concerned Student 1950 in a reference to the year the university first admitted black students -- were behind the ouster of the leaders. Once that was achieved, the protesters seemed to turn their anger on media.

The University of Missouri School of Journalism on the Columbia campus boasts a nationally respected journalism program.

University of Missouri student photographer Tim Tai is blocked from taking photographs by student protesters in Columbia, Mo., Nov. 9, 2015.

University of Missouri student photographer Tim Tai is blocked from taking photographs by student protesters in Columbia, Mo., Nov. 9, 2015.

The video shows protesters arguing with fellow Missouri student Tim Tai, who was covering the event as a freelance photographer for ESPN, and pushing him away after Tai tells them he has a right to cover the event.

Student protesters had created a tent village on a public area of the campus, and Tai is heard on the video telling them, “the First Amendment protects your right to be here and mine,” referring to a constitutional guarantee of the freedom of speech.

Students respond by chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, reporters have got to go," urged on at one point by a woman later identified as a faculty member - mass communications assistant professor Melissa Click.

During the confrontation, Tai is repeatedly pushed by the protesters, who later form a human chain and push Tai and other reporters from the student protest area.

University of Missouri student protesters, led by a group called Concerned Student 1950 -- a reference to the year the university first admitted black students -- block access to Mel Carnahan quad on the campus in Columbia, Mo., Nov. 9, 2015.

University of Missouri student protesters, led by a group called Concerned Student 1950 -- a reference to the year the university first admitted black students -- block access to Mel Carnahan quad on the campus in Columbia, Mo., Nov. 9, 2015.

Professor Click can be heard early in the video saying, “You need to back up if you are with the media."

About 6 minutes 20 seconds into the video, Click tells video photographer Schierbecker he "has to go," and then tries to recruit “muscle” to remove him. Click is shown on the video openly cheering student protesters who block media access to the area.

By Monday Click had blocked public views of her Twitter account. But just days earlier, she had posted on her Facebook page an appeal for media coverage of the student protests.

WATCH: YouTube video of Missouri protesters preventing media from covering event

Click didn't respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday.

By Tuesday afternoon, journalism school dean David Kurpius had tweeted that Click was not a member of the journalism school.

In a letter posted on the journalism school's website, Kurpius said the school "is proud" of the way Tai "handled himself during a protest on Carnahan Quad on the University of Missouri campus. ... The news media have First Amendment rights to cover public events. Tai handled himself professionally and with poise."

He also said, "for clarification," Click "is not a faculty member in the Missouri School of Journalism. She is a member of the MU Department of Communication in the College of Arts and Science. In that capacity she holds a courtesy appointment with the School of Journalism. Journalism School faculty members are taking immediate action to review that appointment."

'Death threats'

Reporter Tai tweeted Tuesday that some of the students in the video who are seen chanting and pushing him had received death threats, which he called "unacceptable and sickening."

"I don't have any ill will toward the people in the video. I think they had good intentions though I'm not sure why it resorted to shoving," Tai tweeted early Tuesday. "My personal intention has never been to vilify the people in the video and I'm not sure why anyone thought it was OK to send them threats."

He also voiced frustration at becoming part of the story, tweeting, "I'm a little perturbed at being part of the story, so maybe let's focus some more reporting on systemic racism in higher ed institutions."

Some material for this report came from AP.

WATCH: Related video by VOA's Zlatica Hoke

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