The University of Tennessee is investigating a tweet by one of its law professors after the faculty member and contributing columnist for USA TODAY and the Knoxville News Sentinel urged motorists to run over demonstrators blocking traffic in Charlotte, N.C.
Twitter briefly suspended Glenn Reynolds' account after he responded to a tweet from a TV news station in Charlotte that showed protesters on Interstate 277. “Run them down,” he wrote.
He posted to Twitter shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday that his account had been unblocked after he agreed to delete the offending tweet.
UT College of Law Dean Melanie D. Wilson said in a statement Thursday morning that she and university administrators are investigating the matter, calling Reynolds' post an “irresponsible use of his platform.”
“The university is committed to academic freedom, freedom of speech, and diverse viewpoints, all of which are important for an institution of higher education and the free exchange of ideas,” she wrote. “My colleagues and I in the university’s leadership support peaceful disobedience and all forms of free speech, but we do not support violence or language that encourages violence.”
She called the concerns about the tweet from students and staff, along with those from citizens across the country, “serious and legitimate.”
Chancellor Jimmy Cheek released a statement about an hour later supporting Wilson and her comments.
“Wilson’s statement about the faculty member’s social media post reinforces the university’s commitment to fostering a civil and inclusive learning environment,” he said in a news release.
Reynolds defended his tweet earlier Thursday.
“Yes, that was my post,” he wrote in an email to the News Sentinel. “It was brief, since it was Twitter, but blocking highways is dangerous and I don’t think people should stop for a mob, especially when it’s been violent.”
Reynolds said he got an automated email from the social media platform offering to reopen his account if he deleted the tweet.
“I deleted the tweet so that I could respond on Twitter, but immediately linked to it on Twitchy so that no one would think that I was “airbrushing” it,” Reynolds wrote.
Reynolds also expanded on his comment in a post to his blog:
“I’ve always been a supporter of free speech and peaceful protest. I fully support people protesting police actions, and I’ve been writing in support of greater accountability for police for years.
“But riots aren’t peaceful protest. And locking interstates and trapping people in their cars is not peaceful protest — it’s threatening and dangerous, especially against the background of people rioting, cops being injured, civilian-on-civilian shootings, and so on. I wouldn’t actually aim for people blocking the road, but I wouldn’t stop because I’d fear for my safety, as I think any reasonable person would.
‘“Run them down” perhaps didn’t capture this fully, but it’s Twitter, where character limits stand in the way of nuance.”
The tweet came as protests continued in Charlotte on Wednesday night following Tuesday afternoon’s fatal shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott by a black officer.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency Wednesday night.