Within a day of distributing their most recent issue on campus, the student journalists responsible for publishing The Minuteman, a conservative newspaper at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, had their issues stolen by vandals, had to contact the local police department, and had to attempt to wrestle their issues back from the would-be thieves while a police officer looked on, refusing to offer assistance.
Members of The Minuteman immediately contacted FIRE, and we have promptly begun investigating the issue.
According to one eyewitness, he discovered a woman standing on a stack of issues, refusing to allow community members the opportunity to grab a copy. When he approached her, “She and others [said] that they have taken the papers and that they will be distributing them instead of us.” After notifying the campus police, the detective who arrived let the eyewitness take back the papers from the thief. As the eyewitness attempted to take the hostage issues back to where they belonged, “the woman and others then forcefully grab[bed] handfuls of them from my arms – IN FRONT OF THE POLICE DETECTIVE – who had displayed her badge.” Perhaps most troubling was that the police officer reportedly did nothing to intervene in this scuffle.
Soon afterward, according to a student leader of The Minuteman, the campus police told him that it was acceptable for anyone to take and immediately discard as many copies of the newspaper as they wanted, since the newspaper was free, even though the students obviously intended to distribute one copy per reader in regularly allotted distribution bins. If true, this is a serious failure to uphold First Amendment rights on campus, and UMass should be very ashamed. This issue must be resolved immediately.
FIRE will continue to investigate this issue as more information, including photos and videos, becomes available in the coming hours.