As tensions rise at the University of Missouri, a young photographer has unintentionally become part of the national story.
Timothy Tai, a student who was reportedly shooting photos for ESPN at the school, was greeted with hostility as he approached a tent city set up on campus on Monday. The incident was caught in a six-minute video uploaded to Youtube by Mark Schierbecker.
Later on Tuesday, the group appeared to have changed its stance so as to be more welcoming to media.
In the video, a crowd was seen physically blocking Tai from snapping pictures, at one point starting a chant: “Hey hey, ho ho, reporters have got to go!”
Tai, who appeared to be growing more frustrated throughout the video, told demonstrators that the same law that protected their gathering also protected his right to shoot photos.
“The First Amendment that protects your right to stand here, protects mine,” he said in the video. “I have a job to do. I’m documenting this for a national news organization.”
At one point, someone in the crowd replied, “We don’t care about your job.” Other taunts included, “Back up, you lost this fight; it’s over,” and another protester telling Tai, “You’re an unethical reporter. You do not respect our space.” The crowd physically forced Tai backward, with one telling him, “It’s our right to walk forward.”
“I’m trying to document this for history,” Tai argued at one point.
However, the person filming the incident was able to get closer to the center of the demonstration, where a woman called for “some muscle” from the crowd to help remove him. The woman has been identified as an assistant professor of mass media, Melissa Click, by the New York Times.
On Tuesday, Click apologized for her actions, the New York Times reported.
‘‘I regret the language and strategies I used, and sincerely apologize to the MU campus community, and journalists at large, for my behavior, and also for the way my actions have shifted attention away from the students’ campaign for justice,’’ she said in the statement.
Janna Basler, the school’s director of greek life, was also identified by the Times as one of the protesters in the video, who told Tai to “back off.”
A June 2015 post by the University of Missouri identifies Tai as a student in the school’s journalism program who has won awards and prize money for his photos.
The group of protesters, Concerned Student 1950, said on Twitter Monday night that they wanted no media at the camp site, to protect the group “from twisted insincere narratives.”
“There were media personnel who were very hostile toward us when we asked to have certain spaces respected,” the group tweeted, adding in another tweet later, “We truly appreciate having our story told, but this movement isn’t for you.”
In a statement posted Tuesday afternoon, David Kurpius, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, applauded Tai’s efforts and also sought to distance the school from Click.
“The Missouri School of Journalism is proud of photojournalism senior Tim Tai for how he handled himself,” Kurpius stated. “The news media have First Amendment rights to cover public events. Tai handled himself professionally and with poise.”
Kurpius also said that Click, who is “featured in several videos confronting journalists, is not a faculty member in the Missouri School of Journalism.” Kurpius said as a member of the Department of Community, she holds an appointment in the journalism school — an appointment that “faculty members are taking immediate action to review.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the Concerned Student 1950 group tweeted that the organization is “learning and growing through this,” and retweeted a photo of a flier to campsite occupants entitled, “Teachable Moment.” The flier said that media has a right to occupy the site, and that they should be welcomed.
From original organizers! We're learning and growing through this. https://t.co/2WjHnJu3F2— ConcernedStudent1950 (@CS_1950) November 10, 2015
Racial tension is a longstanding issue at the school, and growing protests drew national attention, especially as the system’s president, Tim Wolfe, resigned Monday morning amid widening protests. Columbia campus chancellor R. Bowen Loftin also said he would relinquish his post.