An impromptu cruise last week along Vancouver’s Main Street was a mild act of civil disobedience. While we can empathize with residents frustrated with stay-at-home orders, we hope the event did not help spread the coronavirus — and inadvertently cause those orders to be extended.
The gathering of hundreds of vehicles, reportedly extending about a mile and a half, points out the need for responsible actions by citizens and for adequate planning by city officials. It will not be the last time people congregate; the important thing is to do it as safely as possible.
Apparently prompted by a posting on social media, an estimated 1,000 vehicles traveled along Main Street on that Friday, evoking a time-honored tradition of slowly driving to see and be seen. As a Vancouver police officer explained to The Columbian: “Nobody is doing anything illegal. It’s just a bunch of people driving about 2 mph.”
Technically, participants might have been violating the law; it is a gross misdemeanor to ignore Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home orders. But Vancouver police say no citations were issued — a reasonable decision if people were acting peacefully.
That brings up an issue that must be sorted out. Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes told city councilors during a virtual meeting Monday that questions remain about which law enforcement agency holds jurisdiction for enforcing stay-at-home orders.
“We anticipate as we get deeper into the spring and into early summer, and the weather changes, I think that this will continue to be a point of tension and friction,” Holmes said. “And we are going to, within the next week and before our next meeting, have a little more information about a strategy on the enforcement side of things.”
That, indeed, is necessary. There is a need for stay-at-home orders to protect public health during the coronavirus pandemic; but overly aggressive enforcement would exacerbate the tension that is growing between public officials and people who are frustrated with those orders.
Such frustration, however, also calls for responsible actions on the part of citizens. Assistant Police Chief Jeff Mori told the city council: “The aftereffects were visible to everybody. There was leftover garbage. There were things that people just didn’t like seeing.” Most businesses along Main Street are closed, with some restaurants and bars open for takeout orders. And some owners complained of vandalism and littering in the wake of the event.
Which brings up the self-defeating nature of the spontaneous cruise. If participants are unable to partake in a responsible manner, it will provide impetus for city officials to prevent future gatherings. Organizers of the annual Cruise the Couve event (which has been canceled this year) provide portable restrooms and garbage cleanup while paying for adequate policing — a total cost of about $25,000. In other words, the freedom to cruise along Main Street isn’t free.
Meanwhile, photos and anecdotal evidence from last week’s event indicate that few participants were wearing protective masks, and that onlookers gathered in close proximity. Further spreading COVID-19 and increasing the number of cases in Clark County will only delay a reopening of the economy. While frustration is understandable, further patience is required to finally put the shutdown behind us.
In the end, the impromptu cruise along Main Street was a bit of fun for people eager to get outside. We just hope that the fun was harmless.