Why we aren't prosecuting the newspaper thief

A few years ago, when my father was in a hospital in Mississippi, I watched as the hospital handled his case all wrong (in my opinion). I felt agony about his illness and also felt helpless for a while. But then my mother and I challenged the doctors and demanded different treatment. Things changed. Such challenges don’t always have such good results. Spending time in hospital, caring for a loved one, can fill one with anxiety and a feeling of helplessness.

During the past several months, someone has been stealing O&AN newspapers out of its boxes on Vanderbilt’s campus, particularly around the medical center. The boxes would sometimes be totally emptied overnight. Although this is a free newspaper, a sign on the box asks for payment after taking one copy.

In a TV interview, James Grady, the current managing print editor of O&AN, described these actions as a hate crime. Mr. Grady said that any action with the intent to target a minority is considered a hate crime. Was some homophobic person stealing the newspapers in order to achieve some goal?

Vanderbilt police set up cameras outside the newspaper boxes and, from what I understand, patrol officers routinely checked (and in at least one instance, counted copies of O&AN in) the newspaper boxes. Last week, the perpetrator was finally caught stealing the newspapers. Vanderbilt police interrogated the “news hound” and he admitted to having done this dastardly deed, agreed not to do such a thing again, and will pay restitution for the papers he stole.

You may have already heard: O&AN has chosen not to prosecute the man.

I began to wonder whether he was some right-wing nut, some fundamentalist/religious fanatic who hates gay people. Being a mental health provider, it is not ethical for me to speculate about this man’s intentions without clinically interviewing and evaluating him so I don’t really know why this particular man performed these acts.

What I can do is to wonder why someone would do this. We’ve learned that he has a very ill relative who has been hospitalized for many months and that he is the only person helping to provide support during this lengthy hospitalization. Taking care of a loved one in a hospital for months on end can make any of us feel crazy and act crazy. The grief and exhaustion alone are enough to cause even the healthiest of us to act out in some ways. This man is no exception.

Without making light of the hate crime nature of this man’s behavior, if I had been in his shoes, I may have wanted to eat all the ice cream in the cafeteria. I’d have been self-destructive rather than other-destructive. Or I may have gone screaming into the night as I left my loved one, while I felt helpless about illness and powerless to change the situation. Many of us do not always act appropriately when dealing with such major stress.

The obvious guess is that this man objects to, or outright hates, the LGBT community and anything that reminds him of the existence of people who are very different from him.  Or maybe he had unconscious fears about being gay himself. Maybe he had been abused as a young child. Maybe someone molested his child. Perhaps no one taught him how similar LGBT people may be to him, even though there are also differences. Maybe he was taught all his life by his family, church and/or community that being gay is an abomination, that gay people will go to hell, or that they are predators of young children.  We don’t know.

What I can say is that I can get very active sometimes when faced with injustice toward any minority, when people are not being treated equally, and when there is little fairness about legal consequences for certain types of people vs. other, more privileged types. I am glad that I can speak out about my concerns and that sometimes newspapers even print what I write about in my outrage.

Maybe this guy wants to be an activist but he doesn’t use his voice to speak up. And, like many people, perhaps all he knows to do is to act out (like we all do at times) in a way that helps him to feel powerful and better about himself and the world. Unfortunately, his act was indirect and criminal, full of hate and/or fear, unproductive to say the least.

That sometimes happens when there is no dialogue, when people are unable or unwilling to discuss issues about which they disagree. At times it may be easier to crucify “the other” rather than try to get to know them and work with them to create a more peaceful planet.

Let’s not crucify this man.  Also, let's all not crucify each other.



See also:

Man caught stealing copies of O&AN at Vanderbilt

WATCH: Someone is stealing our newspapers



Barbara Sanders is a psychotherapist and activist in Nashville http://synergeticresolutions.blogspot.com

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