More than 2,000 issues of The Tower, Catholic University of America’s student newspaper, were taken from their distribution bins and thrown in nearby trash cans March 27, according to Justine Garbarino, the paper’s editor in chief.
Several copies of the paper were ripped up and left outside The Tower’s office and that week’s cartoon, depicting gay issues and the Catholic Church, was taped to the wall, Garbarino said.
“I was pretty shocked, to be honest,” she said. “I mean, I always thought the student body liked our paper, you know, they were very open to it.”
Garbarino said she believes a student committed the vandalism as an act of protest. There had been several submissions to the editorial page in the past few weeks debating both sides of the issues surrounding gay rights and the Catholic Church, she said.
The Tower’s staff contacted the CUA Department of Public Safety on March 27 and received a helpful response, according to Garbarino. However, when the paper contacted the Metropolitan Police Department to file a report of stolen items, MPD told them they did not have a case.
MPD told The Tower staff that because the papers are free, it is not considered theft when someone takes multiple copies. Since MPD follows D.C.‘s legal code, which mentions nothing about free newspapers, there is no basis for a theft report, Garbarino said.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, said he disagrees with the MPD’s claim.
“Just because the papers are free for the taking doesn’t mean that a person helping themselves to hundreds of them is not committing theft,” he said.
A newspaper also suffers economic injury when someone destroys so many of its copies, as advertisers often require reimbursement, LoMonte said.
LoMonte said he is aware of several instances in which police have made theft charges out of similar situations.
The Tower staff has an idea as to who was responsible for the vandalism, according to Garbarino.
After several witnesses came forward with descriptions and information about the vandal, the staff searched Facebook for ;students matching the culprit’s year and major, she said. They then went through the online pictures until they found one that matched witnesses’ physical descriptions. The staff gave this lead to their public safety department and is now waiting to see where the case goes, Garbarino said.
Jenny Leland, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs, said she thought pressing charges against the vandal would not solve the internal problem.
“I think something should be done about it, but I don’t think pressing charges is necessarily the best route,” she said.
The best way for a newspaper to protect itself legally against this type of incident is to post on the distribution box or the paper itself that there is a monetary charge for additional copies after the first one, LoMonte said. This will protect the paper from vandalism that is essentially censorship.
“It’s the most primitive form of censorship and unfortunately it is also one of the most effective ones,” he said.
Representatives from the CUA Department of Public Safety as well as the MPD were unavailable for comment as of press time Sunday.