Avatar
No. 23, April 12, 1968, p. 2

Harassment: A Postscript

The resolution of the Cambridge police harassment, leaving it to the courts to decide on our freedom to print, has left the impression that by now AVATAR's problems with the law are pretty well cleared up and we can publish and circulate freely. It may be useful, though, to remind people that there is a good deal more to freedom of the press than the legal process. True, almost nobody has been busted for selling the last few issues, and we have our seven vendors unmolested in Harvard Square, so there seems to be finally a fair amount of justice (excluding, of course, the Cambridge District Court). However, we remain a long way from open and unrestricted circulation.

The police, particularly in Boston, have continued to hassle our street-sellers, telling them to move on, that they're blocking the sidewalk, disturbing the peace, or whatever. This seems to be done by the police as individuals — needing to assert their authority despite the courts — although it may well be the intention of the city government itself. This sort of action does not stop our faithful vendors, who are perfectly willing to ignore the police, but it does have other effects. News dealers see this harassment, and are often warned by police not to carry AVATAR, so they are unwilling to risk selling it. In order to guarantee continuous and open circulation, the paper must be on newsstands, which are more reliable than street-sellers, and this is what the police are trying to prevent.

The news dealers are much more susceptible to intimidation than our street sellers, since they have more to lose by arrest and less stake in the paper. They see no reason to risk their livelihoods for something as immaterial as freedom of the press. One man told me he read and enjoyed AVATAR, but that he had owned his stand for twenty-five years and couldn't afford to risk annoying the police. Of course, if he were ever arrested for selling AVA TAR, he would eventually be acquitted, but he couldn't afford the cost of trial. This is a case where we are guilty until, and even after, proven innocent — it is how justice works when you don't have money.

There is another way our circulation is restricted. The mass media have reported our arrests and condemnations for obscenity, but when people are acquitted there is no mention. Thus most people still think of AVATAR as some pornographic newspaper, and will have nothing to do with it. This applies to both potential readers and dealers. To get a paper on any newsstand, you must go through the manager, who has the final decision, since stands are privately owned. If he has only heard about AVATAR through the Record-American, he probably won't sell it. Or, even if he is initially willing to carry AVATAR, he won't if some customer gets upset that he is carrying "that filthy rag." (Some people have pretty violent reactions to AVATAR, considering they have never read it.)

We have made much progress since the "Banned in Boston" days, but there is still some ways to go before we can freely spread the word to all of you. As the courts cannot eliminate discrimination, nor can they eliminate censorship; that is in the hands of the individual, including the individual policeman. Since the mass media won't help us — not wanting competition — it is up to the people who know AVATAR to tell those who don't what we really are. Tell other people, ask news dealers for it or why they don't carry it. If you create the demand, it will be filled. Until the media become real, you have an added responsibility to communicate to as many people as possible. You have much more power than all the police and courts in this, country, if you. would only get together and realize it and act.

randy foote

Mel Lyman