It’s time for us to leave Melissa Click alone.
A mistake was made when Click called for “some muscle” when photographers Mark Schierbecker and Tim Tai*, both MU students, attempted to take pictures of members of Concerned Student 1950.
Click was wrong for preventing them from doing their jobs. She was also right for not allowing them to do their jobs.
Apologies aren’t enough for some people. On Monday, Click was charged with third-degree misdemeanor assault for her actions. If convicted, she faces up to 15 days in jail.
What’s the motivation behind punishing Click for defending students like a mama bear? What’s wrong with keeping the press from violating space created to maintain security after lives have been threatened?
Is the attack on Click about the protection of constitutional rights? Is the fight to dismiss her about crossing the thick line between educating students and taking positions that compromise the integrity of that position?
Click’s call for “some muscle” is the subject of a national debate regarding the rights of journalists. We’re told journalists should never be denied access to reporting stories on property paid for by the taxpayers.
Click had no right to tell them to walk away, and, as an instructor at MU, she should have known better than to suggest otherwise.
The point fails to consider how the constitutional rights of journalists are violated every day.
On April 14, journalists were denied entry into Hulston Hall to report on Bob McCulloch’s speech on the handling of the grand jury that decided not to indict Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown.
No one from the university stood in support of reporters and students who wanted to enter the taxpayer-funded property to listen.
What justifies the constitutional rights of journalists to interrupt the space of black students engaged in protest while refusing the rights of journalists and students to listen to McCulloch’s speech?
Is the case against Click about freedom of the press? Or is she under attack for standing on the wrong side of acceptable practice?
Notwithstanding the need to define public space and the need for policies outlining both access and limits, does Click deserve an assault charge?
If so, can we charge university employees for limiting access to student reporters this past year? How often does it happen? What makes this case different when it is common for police to be called to remove reporters from public space?
I hear the chatter. I get it.
You can argue students have no right to claim off-limits space. Demanding boundaries that restrict access should be limited to those authorized to protect and manage public space. You can argue students have the right to assemble for the purpose of protest but lack the authority to forbid access.
There may be validity to this argument. With that stated, can we agree that the absence of the right to create safe space doesn’t refute the necessity of borderlines for those who feel threatened? If this is true, can we agree that Click’s actions were dictated by the emotions on the other side of the human wall?
Schierbecker and Tai failed to understand and accept the culture behind creating that human wall. They attempted to force themselves through a hedge built to assure safety among students enduring massive hate.
Both failed to consider the racial slurs and threats that made the wall necessary. They considered their right to a story, and, as a consequence, made themselves the story.
The aftermath is troubling. Journalists are using the encounter to evoke the constitutional rights of the press. Journalists have the right to cross that line. All of that is true, but journalists are also taught to find the story within the story.
Schierbecker and Tai missed the story.
It wasn’t what was on the other side of the human barrier. It was the barrier. The story was the love that formed a human wall to protect those on the other side. The story was the passion that created space for people to breathe for a moment before saying more.
Click may have been wrong to call for muscle, but she was right for refusing to allow a reporter into that space. She protected the interest of students by demanding respect for the line between the public's need to see and the protesters need for privacy.
This is the lesson instructors at the School of Journalism should teach. It’s an important message often missed in the frenzy of deadline pressure and beating the competition. The story isn’t always what’s on the other side; often it’s what’s standing next to the person with the camera.
Click remained present with those who were the subject of the news. Some want to punish her for participating in the story. They say she compromised the integrity of her role as an instructor. Many think she should be fired for taking that position, but isn’t that what teachers are taught to do?
The best teachers are those who learn from their students. More than being a teacher, Click allowed the humanity of the students to arouse her response. In that moment, she was more than a teacher. She felt compelled to defend her friends on the other side of the human wall.
Some people can’t accept an apology. Some people can’t learn lessons beyond their assumptions.
Click has given an apology.
Fifteen days in jail.
Shaking my head.