Recent vandalism has a chilling effect downtown

The OlympianSeptember 26, 2013 

21GLASS

Mike Volz has seen five vandalism attacks since Labor Day on his at his MVP Mopars auto shop in downtown Olympia. He is shown with a broken window on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013.

TONY OVERMAN — Staff Photographer

Mike Volz campaigns for Olympia City Council. He takes a position opposed to a low-barrier shelter. Vandals attack his downtown business five times in less than a month. A connection?

Downtown property owner Brian Kolb speaks out against a low-barrier shelter in the downtown core. Vandals break a window in one of his buildings. A connection?

Police have no way of determining a link between the statements of these two citizens and the destruction of their personal property. Unless some individual or group claims responsibility — an unlikely event — we’ll never know. Law enforcement rarely captures and successfully prosecutes vandals.

Maybe there’s no connection. We’d like to think so, but five broken windows in a matter of weeks sounds like more than coincidence.

It has happened before. Several years ago vandals spray painted the offices of Olympia Master Builders in protest of raising building heights on the isthmus.

It doesn’t matter who perpetrated these crimes, or what motivated them. These attacks have a chilling effect. Who is willing to speak freely when the possibility of retribution exists, real or imagined?

Volz was right when he said the vandalism “keeps people out of the public forum, keeps people from speaking their mind.” It’s unfortunate but true.

Olympia prides itself on being one of Washington’s most liberal cities — though not necessarily one of the most progressive. We’d hate to think free speech and diversity of thought are not valued here. Or that Olympia is a place that only welcomes opinions aligned with prevailing social justice mores.

In Olympia, we would expect crowds carrying placards or a protest on the Capitol steps in response to an unpopular opinion. Vandalism seems out of character — except on May Day.

If any link exists between the statements of Volz and Kolb and the ensuing property crimes, it’s easy to believe it comes from the potential inhabitants of a low-barrier shelter. They are, after all, people rejected by other shelters because they refuse to follow established rules.

That offers no condolence, however. Those are not the people who should control the political agenda or public discourse. They are not the people we want to define our community.

All of this is mere speculation, of course. Five attacks over the course of a few weeks might be just random. Maybe we had an extra full moon.

Or, as an Olympia police department spokesperson said, Volz’s location might be to blame. He is located downtown, after all, where “we have the occasional spree of people, especially along State and Fourth, doing essentially drive-bys with BB guns.”

That’s not a comforting statement. In other words, vandalism is common in certain areas of downtown. If you can’t tolerate it, your only option is to move your business elsewhere. And if we accept that, we are blaming the victim. Surely, we can do better.

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