Port Neches newspaper trasher Jerry Little is afraid.
Not of the law but of a free press.
Little made that clear to our editor, Marilyn Tennissen, when she watched him last Monday as he cleared out a Record newspaper rack in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse. She confronted Little after observing him take a large number of copies into the men's bathroom where the newspapers were later found in a trash container.
"If I've committed a crime, then charge me," Little challenged Tennissen.
We don't carry badges at The Record, nor are we authorized to execute the laws of Texas. So Tennissen couldn't oblige.
But somebody else might. A number of free newspaper-takers in this and other states have been charged and punished for their actions, usually inspired by the same fear driving Little.
There was the Austin man who trashed 5,800 copies of the Daily Texan because he didn't like a story it published about him. Or the Florida homecoming queen who asked friends to trash copies of a newspaper carrying an article revealing her criminal record. And the Berkeley, Calif., mayor who disposed of hundreds of copies of a newspaper because it carried an endorsement of his opponent.
All were scared, less of being arrested than for being openly challenged by a free and independent press, the public's watchdog.
Like Little, these opponents of free speech were worried that their views weren't strong enough to survive the challenge of an opposing view. They wanted to silence any discussion that might be more convincing than theirs.
It's a plausible explanation for Little's one-man crusade against the First Amendment. Since mid-February courthouse readers have been complaining that our newspaper racks often become empty minutes after being filled.
Little has been a regular observer at a trial we've been following closely. That is the trial in which multi-millionaire lawyer Glen Morgan is seeking an epic settlement out of chemical-maker DuPont.
We know Morgan doesn't agree with our editorial page position on the case. We can't imagine he would want others to have the benefit of our views.
But that doesn't explain Little, who isn't saying why he did what he did at our newsrack.
Rather than an explanation, we have a better idea. Write for us, Mr. Little, and we're glad to let bygones be bygones.
Lay it all out. Tell everyone how wrong we are. We'll feature it prominently on the same pages you seem to loathe. And if you think it's helpful, tell us if you represent anyone other than yourself.
Here's hoping you take the invitation.