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Thousands of issues of the Catholic University of America’s student newspaper, The Tower, were stolen and thrown into recycling bins across campus on Friday evening.

Several issues of the paper were ripped up and placed in front of the newspaper office, and a comic that ran in the paper was ripped out and taped next to the door.

The comic was commenting on several forum pieces and letters to the editor that have run in the Tower over the past two months discussing gay rights and the Catholic Church. Featuring the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and symbols signifying gays and lesbians, the comic stated that the student population that identifies as gay is “no longer underground.”

Student editors called the Metropolitan Police Department on Friday and again on Sunday, and were told by officers both times that because the issues were free on newsstands, they did not consider it a theft.

Contacted today, MPD Officer Israel James of the office of communications said the amount of papers trashed made the case “a little tricky,” and said he would call back after he looked into the issue.

More on free newspaper theft after the jump.

“The Tower is proud to offer students a place to debate opinions, but we believe that most would agree theft is an inappropriate way to express their disagreement,” said editor-in-chief Justine Garbarino.

She said the paper does not censor anything they run on the forum pages.“Anything that’s signed by a member of the campus community, we print.”

Editors say they have the name of a suspect who was seen by other students throwing papers away, but cannot do anything about it because the university will not let them see the footage from a system of cameras in place across campus. On Friday, they were told they could look at the footage on Monday, but the only person with access to the system was apparently not on campus today.

“They are being really nice and open to giving us the best information they can, but the fact of the matter is, our papers were stolen and some kind of action needs to be taken,” said Garbarino.

From Garbarino:

“University administrations, have only offered consolation, saying there is not much they can do, other than it might be a violation in the student code of the University. Our Department of Public Safety has been of little help. They have disregarded our requests to see the video tapes and have said that the investigation will take a long time and not to expect any answers. Our staff has conducted our own investigation and has been able to determine who the culprit(s) may have been, but without seeing the tapes, we can not pursue anything. MPD also will not take a report, claiming that since the papers are free, anyone can take them and do with whatever they want with the issues. However, numerous court cases have proven that this is simply not true.”

Even if the school does prosecute the students internally, Garbarino does not believe the campus judicial prosecution will be adequate since the punishment will not be made publicand because The Tower is hoping to recoup printing costs and partially refund advertiser’s money.

Washington City Paper publisher Amy Austin said that she has also been frustrated by MPD’s reaction to the destruction of free newspapers. About eight years ago, she got into a fight with a flower vendor in Dupont Circle who was taking issues out of the box and using them to wrap his produce. Austin confronted him, and the man started yelling back at her, saying he could do whatever he wanted. Austin called police.

“The police told me he could do whatever he wanted,” said Austin. “‘It’s okay, little girl, just go home,’ is what I felt they were saying to me.”

Austin said “there’s nothing more aggravating then to have someone take a fresh, unread paper and then throw it in the trash.”

Editors at the student paper say they had hoped for a stronger action from the university.

“It is seriously disappointing to see that the university is allowing this destruction of property and blatant censorship to occur without taking action,” said Ben Newell, former editor-in-chief of the Tower.

“It is equivalent somebody driving a car through the president’s office, and campus security throwing up their hands and saying ‘oh well, it was a student on campus property so its not criminal’,” said Newell. “We have lost money and property. It is absolutely a criminal act.”

This is not the first time a large number of student newspapers were taken off stands at school—many were removed by the university’s admissions department when potential students were visiting campus in 2006.

Video of the trashed issues of the paper below.

From The Tower’s blog:

Issues were missing in the Pryzbyla Center, McMahon Hall, Leahy Hall, the Mullen Library, Hannan Hall and various other locations.

It is believed they were stolen from the Pryzbyla Center between approximately 5:45 and 6:15 p.m.

Tower editors subsequently informed the Department of Public Safety  and placed any salvageable issues of the paper to new stands.

Editor-in-Chief Justine Garbarino said the Tower plans to pursue both internal disciplinary action and legal action against those responsible.

Ryan J. Reilly, a Washington City Paper intern, also serves as an editor at the Tower.