A filmed confrontation between protesters at the University of Missouri and a student journalist went viral Monday afternoon after the demonstrators, including two university administrators, attempted to block the student from shooting photographs on a public quad.
The confrontation appeared to show the protesters engaging in a clear violation of the First Amendment, since the incident occurred in a public space on the campus of a public university.
The video was posted on YouTube shortly after University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resigned following a week of protests over his perceived lack of response to a series of racially charged incidents. The Los Angeles Times reported that Tim Tai, a 20-year-old senior at the university working on a freelance assignment for ESPN, went to the protesters’ tent encampment to document their reaction to the news.
Shortly after Tai arrived and began to take photos, the protesters formed a ring around the encampment and began to push away the assembled media. Tai refused to budge.
“I have a job to do!” Tai tells one demonstrator in the video “I’m documenting this for a national news organization. This is the 1st Amendment that protects your right to stand here and mine!”
“You don’t have a right to take our photos,” one demonstrator tells Tai, while others start chanting, “Hey hey! Ho ho! Reporters have got to go!”
One school administrator, identified as Janna Basler, the school’s director of Greek life and leadership, is seen on the video confronting Tai. When he asks her name, Basler says, “I am Concerned Student 1950,” a reference to the name of the African-American group leading the protests.
Near the end of the video, another adult, identified as assistant professor of mass media Melissa Click, tells another reporter, “You need to get out,” before asking other protesters for help.
“Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here?” she asks, adding as the video ends, “I need some muscle over here.”
Tom Warhover, the executive editor of the Columbia Missourian, a university newspaper, told the Times he was “pretty incensed” about Tai’s treatment.
“I find it ironic that particularly faculty members would resort to those kinds of things for no good reason. I understand students who are protesting and want privacy. But they are not allowed to push and assault our photographers — our student photographers.”
It was not immediately clear what action Tai or Warhover would take in light of the incident.
Tai told the Los Angeles Times the situation resembled last year’s protests in Ferguson, Mo., which he also covered. The only difference, he said, was “it was the police doing it then.”