Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Vandalism of D.C. newspaper boxes gets hate-crimes designation by police


by Chuck Colbert

For a couple of years now, vandals have been striking out against two LGBT weeklies, damaging their distribution boxes and destroying copies of the publications. But in a new development, the Washington, D.C., police have opened an investigation into the incidents with a view of them as hate crimes.

It’s pretty “disgusting,” said Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff recently during a telephone interview. The incidents started, he recalled, late last spring or early summer with “large quantities of papers stolen from boxes.” Someone damaged boxes by kicking them, Naff said. Others had their display windows broken, with clips that hold newspapers destroyed. Yet other distribution boxes were spray-painted. Perpetrators even left feces inside some boxes.

Both Metro Weekly and the Blade ran news stories covering the vandalism

The Metro Weekly piece reported vandalism to its distribution boxes, which included “filling them with everything from rotting food to what seems to be human and animal waste.”

Vandalism of the Blade’s boxes occurred in the heart of the gayborhood, the District’s Dupont Circle area at 16th and Q Street NW, and 17th and R Street NW.

Metro Weekly reported incidents at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and R Street NW and an area on P St. between 15th and 14th streets NW.

Naff said that he was “glad” the police gave the incidents hate-crimes designation. “It’s appropriate when you have a line of boxes, and City Paper [a local alternative publication] and others are untouched, but the two gay publications are vandalized,” he said. “It’s pretty obvious.”

Both Metro Weekly and the Blade are working with D.C. police through the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit. Naff said the Blade had informal discussions with the police last summer. The hate crimes designation, he said, came without “our pushing.”

Naff voiced praise for the police taking the vandalism “seriously.” The mayor’s office has also been “supportive, monitoring it. Government officials are doing everything they can. It’s a matter of time before we catch” the culprits.

According to former Metro Weekly co-publisher Sean Bugg, the incidents of vandalism are hate crimes “even though it’s not the same as physically attacking someone and beating them up,” he said, quoted in the publication’s Sept. 14, 2012, article. “The vandalism goes beyond a hateful and disgusting attack on the magazine and its readers, but on the neighborhood where the incidents occur.”

Naff agrees. Such vandalism, he said, “illustrates that despite all the progress we’ve made, in the heart of the gay neighborhood in Washington, D.C., there is still animosity out there. Without being melodramatic, what’s unnerving is, what’s next? If someone is willing to vandalize a box, are they willing to assault one of our readers, someone reading the paper?”

Naff said there are two effects of the vandalism. One is the cost of having the distribution boxes, spoiled by feces, steam-cleaned by distributors before they can be restored to a location. “It’s also confusing for advertisers and readers, who say, ‘I can’t find the Blade,’ or ‘I don’t see the Blade. What’s going on?’”

Still, there is a takeaway message for publishers. “Call the police and file a formal report every time it happens,” said Naff. “Police need a paper trail.”

And yet, Mark Segal, publisher and founder of Philadelphia Gay News (PGN), offered another perspective.

Over the last three decades or so, “We have seen every form of vandalism,” he said over the phone, noting cars smashed into boxes, boxes glued shut, smashed windows, fires set in boxes — and yes, human excrement.

“Of course, it’s a hate crime,” said Segal. “It’s ridiculous to think otherwise.”

Still, “Our goal is to show the haters they can never win,” he said. “We always held back some boxes in our offices. If a box is destroyed, we’d put another one in the same location. That’s easier than going through a legal process of reporting it as a hate crime. We’re busy here putting out a newspaper every week.”

PGN has about a hundred distribution boxes spread out over Center City, West Philadelphia, South Philadelphia and New Jersey.

“What we’ve done in Philadelphia is create a committee of all the newspapers, working together within Center City,” said Segal.

While there have been no recent incidents like those in Washington, D.C., Segal said that the vandalism that now occurs is similar to other newspapers. “The biggest culprits are graffiti and stickers.”

IN THE NEWS
Volume 15
Issue 10

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