Missoula mayor, City Council voice grief for victims of hate, shootings

Missoula Mayor John Engen expressed his sympathy and support for victims of the mosque shootings in New Zealand, “a country filled with lovely people who are peaceful and kind and generous.” (File photo)

The past week was a rough one, Mayor John Engen began, “around the world and in Missoula, Montana.”

So he wanted to “acknowledge a few things,” as did several City Council members.

About 50 senseless deaths in a pair of New Zealand mosques. About Missoula’s grief for four innocent people shot by a man they did not know. About hate speech left on local doorsteps. About the daily sacrifices of those who keep this community safe.

Engen spoke first, near the end of Monday night’s City Council meeting.

While the tragedy that unfolded last Friday in Christchurch, New Zealand, was some distance from Missoula’s sister city in Palmerston North, it nonetheless blindsided people with whom local residents have relationships.

“The fact of the matter is, that is a country filled with lovely people who are peaceful and kind and generous, and their world was rocked,” Engen said. “We want to send our sympathy and our concern their way.”

Closer to home, a Montana Highway Patrol trooper, Wade Palmer, suffered critical injuries “at the hands of someone wielding a couple of guns,” the mayor continued, his voice breaking at one point. “We had one soul die, we had two others injured.”

“So we are thinking about our friend as he recovers … I hope … in Salt Lake City, and we think about the officers who work every day for the city of Missoula, and we want to thank them and the troopers and everyone who is engaged in keeping us safe and sound.”

Ward 4 City Councilman John DiBari went next, leading with a phone call he received from a constituent who received a piece of hate mail on the front porch. Hate-filled fliers have been left on porches and windshields in Missoula for several months now, always under cover of darkness.

“In light of what happened in New Zealand,” DiBari said, “I think it is important that we reflect on what we are willing to tolerate in this community when it comes to hate speech – and consider if there is appropriate action on the part of this council that could address that.”

Ward 3 Councilwoman Gwen Jones said she, too, was contacted by a constituent who received a hate-ridden flier. It’s important to pay attention to these fliers and their threats, she said.

Contact your City Council members or the police if you receive such a flier “so we can get a sense of what’s going on out there,” Jones said. “I don’t know if the police have any tools at this point to address that.”

Jones said she, too, would look into whether there are appropriate ways to address hate speech on the local level.

Ward 5’s Stacie Anderson brought a similar message from a resident of her neighborhood. “I think that is not the Missoula that I know and love and am proud to represent,” she said. “That sort of hateful propaganda is not welcome here in Missoula.”

Anderson encouraged local residents to join in the activities planned as part of Islam Week during April.

Sponsored by SALAM, or Standing Alongside America’s Muslims, the event runs April 8-12 and includes events each day. More information is available online here.

Engen said he, too, has talked with a number of Missoula residents and groups about the hateful fliers, many of which targeted Jews or immigrants.

He reiterated that it’s important to let the police department know if you receive a hate-filled flier or leaflet.

“I met with members of the Jewish community and the larger faith community, and also with members of the African-American community and the Venezuelan community,” the mayor said. “We are working together on an event to remind folks that hate isn’t welcome in Missoula.”