Obama denounces muzzling of speech at Mizzou protests

While praising the activism of students and faculty protesting alleged racism at the University of Missouri last week, President Obama also chastised them for repressing contrary opinions.

“I want an activist student body just like I want an activist citizenry,” Obama said in an interview with George Stephanopoulos Thursday, but also added, “I do worry if young people start getting trained to think that if somebody says something I don't like, if somebody says something that hurts my feelings, that my only recourse is to shut them up, avoid them, push them away, call on a higher power to protect me from that.”

Throughout the ongoing protests at Mizzou, numerous incidents have been reported in which demonstrators have sought to silence opposing views, and even to prevent reporters from covering the unrest.

On Tuesday, for instance, the Mizzou Police Department sent an email to students asking them to report “hateful and/or hurtful speech” so that the school might pursue disciplinary action, while one day earlier, assistant professor of mass media Melissa Click was caught on video calling for “muscle” to help evict a photographer attempting to document the scene.

In addition, a Christian preacher claims to have been punched by a protester for voicing his opinions on campus, and a USA Today correspondent from Texas joined in the online harassment of a student for writing an op-ed criticizing the protest movement’s excesses.

Obama noted in the interview that certain parallels exist between the current protests and the civil rights movement, but also drew contrasts between them.

“The civil rights movement happened because there was civil disobedience, because people were willing to go to jail, because there were events like Bloody Sunday,” he said. “But it was also because the leadership of the movement consistently stayed open to the possibility of reconciliation and sought to understand the views—even views that were appalling to them of the other side.”

Making the issue more personal, Obama went on to explain how he is portraying the Mizzou protests as a lesson for his daughters.

“We talk about this at the dinner table. And I say to them, ‘Listen, if you hear somebody using a racial epithet, if you hear somebody who's anti-Semitic, if you see an injustice, I want you to speak out’,” Obama related to Stephanopoulos. “But I tell them, ‘I want you also to be able to listen … I don't want you to think that a display of your strength is simply shutting other people up. And that part of your ability to bring about change is going to be by engagement and understanding the viewpoints and the arguments of the other side’.”

As important as he considers the issues being raised at Mizzou to be, Obama added, “you're not going to make the kinds of deep changes in society that those students want, without taking it on, in a full and clear and courageous way.”

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