Unidentified perpetrators are emptying some of the Washington Blade’s newspaper distribution boxes of papers on the day they are delivered and vandalizing others by smearing human excrement on the papers and the inside surfaces, preventing readers from gaining access to the Blade in locations throughout the city.
Blade publisher Lynne Brown said that while the bulk theft of the papers and the vandalism of the boxes have been taking place for the past two years, the frequency and intensity of the incidents appear to have increased during Thanksgiving week.
“We restock and clean as fast as possible,” Brown said. “But there’s a loss of property. This is our product. It’s being destroyed,” she said. “And the confidence of our readers is being challenged.”
John Ryan, co-owner of Media Point LLC, a newspaper distribution company that delivers the Blade each week to the street boxes and other locations, such as bars, bookstores and restaurants, said his drivers remove the boxes soiled by excrement and take them to a company warehouse, where they are steam cleaned.
Ryan said during the past month or two, the unidentified perpetrator or perpetrators have repeatedly targeted Blade boxes on 17th Street outside some of the neighborhood’s popular bars and restaurants, including the gay bar Colbalt at 17th and R streets, N.W.
“I don’t know how they are getting it into the box, but it’s the fifth time with these boxes that we’ve had to pull them off the street and clean them and put them back,” he said in referring to the boxes smeared with excrement.
“We’re at wit’s end as far as that goes because that is a nasty job as you can imagine,” he said.
“And three days later they’re doing it again, and we have to pick them back up,” said Media Point supervisor Richard Goldsmith, who is in charge of the Blade distribution operation.
D.C. police spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump said earlier this year that the department is “very committed” to addressing reports of vandalism of newspaper boxes. But Crump and other police officials have said the U.S. Attorney’s office has determined that it’s not a crime to take a free newspaper, even large quantities of the paper.
Maryland and other states have passed laws that make it a crime to remove large quantities of free newspapers if the intent is to deprive others from reading them or obtaining them. D.C. has yet to adopt such a law, police officials have said.
Brown said that with the vandalism appearing to be increasing, she plans to more aggressively report the incidents to police at the time the delivery drivers discover the damaged boxes.
According to Brown and Ryan, in addition to the excrement smearing, vandals have started to smash the plastic window on the boxes and break off a clip that holds one copy of the paper against the window so readers can read the headlines and determine if a new issue has been delivered.
Ryan and Goldsmith said they take steps to repair and replace the broken windows and clips on the boxes as fast as they can, but in certain locations the vandals return and break them almost as soon as the repaired boxes are put back on the street.
“If a hate crime is a factor, one of my concerns is what if a reader is taking a Blade out and this hateful, spiteful person who’s kicking out the window on the box decides to attack a Blade reader,” Brown said.