Mizzou’s Viral Video Star, the ‘Muscle’ Professor, Suspended, Charged and Pleading Not Guilty

Has Click crossed the line that separates free speech from a verbal crime?

Remember Melissa Click?  She’s the professor from the University of Missouri who called on some “muscle” to remove a reporter from the “safe space” in an area of the college open to the public in general.  Click became the focal point of the unrest at the university and globally infamous for a time.  Well, her troubles aren’t over. On Monday, Columbia’s town prosecutor Stephen Richey charged Click with assault. On Tuesday, she pleaded not guilty.

From USA Today:

A University of Missouri assistant professor who has faced an avalanche of criticism after she was caught on video calling for “some muscle” to help her eject a student journalist at a protest site on campus has been suspended from her duties, the University of Missouri System Board of Curatorsannounced Wednesday.

The decision to suspend Melissa Click came two days after the Columbia, Mo. city prosecutor’s office announced it had filed a misdemeanor simple assault charge against the department of communication professor. The charge relates to the Nov. 9 incident on campus that captured national attention.

“MU Professor Melissa Click is suspended pending further investigation,” said Pam Henrickson, chairwoman of the Board of Curators, which governs the four University of Missouri campuses. “The Board of Curators directs the General Counsel, or outside counsel selected by General Counsel, to immediately conduct an investigation and collaborate with the city attorney and promptly report back to the Board so it may determine whether additional discipline is appropriate.”

Click was filmed having physical contact and berating a student journalist who was trying to conduct interviews at a campsite set up on the university’s flagship campus in Columbia by students protesting the treatment of African Americans by administrators.

Whoops. Take a look for yourself.

Click did apologize for her actions shortly afterward, but that didn’t change much.  Her actions have now resulted in criminal charges.

(Related: Mizzou Media Prof. Tries to ‘Muscle’ Media. The Irony is Immense With This One.)

The Atlantic examines the free speech questions at play here:

Here’s the exam question: Did Click “incite” violence under the Supreme Court’s famous Brandenburg rule that the government does not violate the First Amendment by punishing speech “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and … likely to incite or produce such action”? By urging listeners to “get this reporter out of here” with “muscle” (mercifully no one responded), was she intentionally tipping the situation toward violence? That’s not protected speech.

Here’s a second question: Assuming that violence was not intended or likely, did Click utter a “true threat,” another category of speech that the First Amendment doesn’t protect? A “true threat” doesn’t have to be a “real threat”—that is, the speaker need not intend to or be able to carry out the threat. It’s enough if the language is intended to convince others that the speaker intends to. Was she trying to scare Schierbecker into going away? That, too, would not be protected speech.

Here’s a third one. As shown on the video, Click also reached out and pushed or slapped Schierbecker’s video camera. When she did that, did she “knowingly cause physical contact with another person knowing the other person [would] regard the contact as offensive or provocative”? If so, she could be found guiltyunder Missouri law of “assault in the third degree.” Because the action did not risk injury or death to another person, it is a Class C misdemeanor, and could bring a sentence of up to 15 days in jail.

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