Editorials

Erika D. Smith: Sideshows hurt Missouri protesters’ credibility

Melissa Click, a professor in Missouri's communications department, confronts a journalist and calls for "muscle" to help remove him from a protest on campus at the University of Missouri. Late Tuesday, she resigned a courtesy appointment from the university’s school of journalism.
Melissa Click, a professor in Missouri's communications department, confronts a journalist and calls for "muscle" to help remove him from a protest on campus at the University of Missouri. Late Tuesday, she resigned a courtesy appointment from the university’s school of journalism. AP

What happened at the University of Missouri should’ve been a civil rights victory for the ages: Students, angry about the school’s persistent refusal to address racism on campus, decide to take on its gutless administrators with David-like righteousness. Under a wave of public pressure amplified by a boycott threat from the football team, the administrators cave with a Goliath-like fall from power.

It should’ve been a glorious triumph – not just for them, but for students across the country, who are fed up with racism and bigotry on campus and have mounted protests of their own.

Instead, the student activists, known as Concerned Student 1950, keep shooting themselves in the foot, tarnishing their achievement with idiotic decisions that have hurt their credibility.

As a black woman who remembers all too well what it was like to be a black student on a campus that was overwhelmingly white and tone-deaf, it has been painful to watch.

Like that stupid video. Shot on Monday, it showed a few dozen student protesters taunting, shoving and threatening another student – a photographer working on behalf of ESPN. He had dared to challenge the protesters, who had illegally formed a blockade to keep “all media” out of their tent city, even though it was in the middle of a public campus.

What’s worse, their ringleader, Melissa Click, was a communications professor who really should’ve known better. She quit her post with the journalism school Tuesday, although she remains at the university.

But why stage a protest in the first place, only to ban the press? Because, the overwhelmingly diverse group of protestors tweeted: “It’s typically white media who don’t understand the importance of respecting black spaces.” Right.

Then there was student body President Payton Head who, based on rumors, jumped on social media Tuesday night to frantically warn black students to “stay away from the windows in residence halls” because the KKK had been spotted on campus.

You don’t violate someone else’s First Amendment rights to ensure your own. And you don’t falsely set yourself up to be a victim just to make someone else a bully.

In reality, no such thing had happened. What did happen was a man, later identified as being 90 miles away from campus, posted threats online to “shoot every black person I see” on campus. A suspect was arrested Wednesday morning.

Both Head and Concerned Student 1950 have apologized. Unfortunately, that may not matter all that much in the court of public opinion.

Apology or no apology, the students surrendered a big chunk of their moral high ground with their actions this week. You don’t violate someone else’s First Amendment rights (the freedom of the press) to ensure your own (the right to peaceably assemble). And you don’t falsely set yourself up to be a victim just to make someone else a bully.

There are real problems on college campuses, even real bullies. At UCLA, students thought it was OK to a throw a “Kanye Western” party, complete with people in blackface and dresses with padded behinds.

Spineless administrators continue to turn a blind eye to hate speech on campuses throughout the country. Just take a look at some of the heartbreaking tweets under the #BlackOnCampus hashtag on Twitter.

Exaggeration doesn’t do anyone any good. It’s time to focus, once again, on changing reality.

Erika D. Smith: 916-321-1185, @Erika_D_Smith

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