The Washington Blade this week appealed to its readers for help in identifying a man captured on video removing and discarding copies of the Blade from a distribution box on the sidewalk in front of the Blade office on 14th Street, N.W.
“Chronic and progressively nastier vandalism has targeted Blade boxes, denying readers their newspapers for approximately two years,” said Blade publisher Lynne Brown.
“Frustrated by the loss of papers, property and concern for readers’ safety, Blade staffers set up video surveillance,” Brown said. “If anyone recognizes this man, we will take the next step.”
For more than two years, one or more vandals have been damaging Blade distribution boxes throughout the city, breaking the windows or the clips on the boxes and removing and in some cases disposing in nearby trash bins stacks of papers, preventing readers from obtaining them.
In other cases, the vandal or vandals have tossed feces into the boxes, forcing the Blade’s distribution company to transport the boxes to a warehouse where they are steam cleaned. Company officials have said the as-yet-unidentified perpetrator sometimes targets the same boxes with excrement shortly after they are returned to the sidewalks.
“This video footage is a first step at protecting ourselves,” Brown said. “Posting it online and asking our readers to help identify him is the second step,” she said. “We are fed up and moving more aggressively to address the situation.”
At the Blade’s request, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray earlier this year submitted to the City Council legislation that would make it a misdemeanor offense to steal large quantities of free newspapers. The Blade sought the legislation after D.C. police said they did not have legal authority to arrest someone for taking a free newspaper regardless of how many copies are taken.
On the mayor’s behalf, Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) introduced in February the Criminal Penalties for the Theft of Newspapers Act of 2014. The legislation would make it “unlawful for a person to knowingly or willingly obtain or exert unauthorized control over newspapers with the intent to prevent another person from reading the newspapers.”
The bill calls for a penalty of up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500 or both for someone convicted of violating the proposed law.
The bill is currently pending before the Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, which is chaired by Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6). It would cover all of the more than a dozen free distribution newspapers in the city.
“Newspaper publishers have reported an ongoing problem of vandalism and theft of all of the newspapers from newspaper distribution boxes,” Gray said in a letter to the Council. “I urge the Council to take prompt and favorable action on this legislation.”