Melissa Click always had a right to swing her figurative fist until a photographer’s nose, or camera, got in the way. Now the University of Missouri assistant professor is getting a well-deserved, hard lesson on legal limits and boundaries.
Ms. Click badly miscalculated when she allegedly grabbed a student photographer’s camera and then called for “muscle” to physically remove him from the university campus area that protesters had occupied in November while campaigning for racial justice.
Despite her public apology, she has been roundly condemned across the country for her actions and subjected to untold humiliations, including calls by state legislators for her to be fired.
On Wednesday, the university suspended her pending further investigation and is currently reviewing her application for tenure. The odds are clearly not in Ms. Click’s favor.
Now comes the question of criminal charges filed in Columbia municipal court Monday. Does this amount to piling on, or does Ms. Click need to experience a bit of judicial muscle to fully appreciate the gravity of her actions?
There’s a growing misperception across the country, whether it’s the Occupy movement or the gunmen who have seized a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon, that protest movements are a kind of law unto themselves. And the misunderstanding persists that protesters have a right to tell journalists or other citizens where they may and may not tread on public property.
So abhorrent are journalists that the Missouri Senate voted this month to ban reporters from the floor. The House already has such a ban.
Ms. Click and the student protesters seem to share a belief with legislators that the presence of journalists documenting news events and conducting interviews is a bad thing. The difference between the Senate’s ban and Ms. Click’s, however, is one of legality.
The former has full authority to limit journalists’ access to the Senate floor, even if it is taxpayer-owned property. Ms. Click and the protesters had no authority to assert domain over the public space at Mizzou, regardless of the protesters’ desire to keep their encampment safe and reporter-free.
She could shake her fist in anger at the cameras. But she crossed a very clear legal line by laying hands upon the photographer and calling for force against him.
Ms. Click, 45, serves on the communications faculty and at the time of the incident, had a courtesy appointment at the Journalism School. A journalism and communications teacher who clearly doesn’t understand the First Amendment is a problem.
An adult authority figure behaving like a naïve teenager and serving as the worst possible example for students to follow is another.
Remember that the protest itself was about equal justice — the concept that no one has a special status above the law.
Ms. Click wanted justice enough to protest for it. And now is her chance to see exactly what that entails.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.