By: Raymond H. Boone
A Free Press reader, Ronald Maxwell Jr. was waiting for a bus at the Willow Lawn GRTC bus stop. To his surprise, he smelled the odor of smoke. He looked for its source. In a line of newspaper boxes, he found that the smoke was coming from a Richmond Free Press box. When he opened the door of the box, he saw that the newspapers inside had been set on fire.
Maxwell documented this criminal act of arson. He photographed the burned stack of newspapers in the damaged Free Press box and later phoned the Free Press.
We contacted the Henrico County Police Department, where Willow Lawn is located, and the Richmond Police Department to report escalating destructive acts related to the distribution of the Free Press in the Richmond area, including the city.
We have noted that the vandalism of our newspaper boxes increases with the publication of front-page stories on President Obama. Coverage of the president’s Sept. 9 visit to Richmond dominated the front page of our Sept. 15-17 edition with a banner headline over a comprehensive story and large photo of the president at the University of Richmond.
And this is happening in America — the celebrated home of the First Amendment — not a communist nation that is often condemned for control of the press.
Efforts to frustrate circulation of the Free Press — or to shut down this newspaper — are not new. When we began publication nearly 20 years ago, a number of our boxes were maliciously flattened by big-wheel vehicles. Later, distribution of the Free Press was banned from a supermarket chain for irrational, vindictive reasons. Now, editions of the Free Press continue to be covered up with the placement of other newspapers over them at other business sites. Then, there’s the removal of high-volume Free Press locations in another apparent effort to deprive the public of news, information and opinion fearlessly presented in the columns of this community-spirited newspaper.
The Free Press daily confronts similar unjust challenges when our staff members seek to do their jobs in covering the news and offering businesses the opportunity to reach our important readers through our advertising columns.
We have a warning for the opponents of the Free Press and the First Amendment or press freedom, which is essential to a free society. The warning: The Free Press will not be intimidated. We will remain unyieldingly committed to fight for a society free of injustices and a better society for all people. We will continue to effectively fight for jobs, economic justice, equal and relevant education, affordable housing, corporate and government accountability — and, unquestionably, free expression.
We invite our readers to assist in our ongoing battle against vandalism, arson, and uncivilized, unfair policies against the Free Press and the people.
As for now, we ask our readers to follow the Ronald Maxwell Jr. example: Be on the lookout for criminals who are destroying the Free Press boxes and newspapers, and report their cowardly, un-American acts to the police and the Free Press.
Raymond H. Boone is editor/publisher of the Richmond Free Press. This editorial originally appeared in the Sept. 22-24 edition of the Free Press and is used with permission.