Sorry, Missoula Leaders, But Virtue-Signaling Rhetoric And Symbolic Gestures Won’t Cut It

by William Skink

Missoula is going to rise to this occasion. We may be a blazingly white community of increasingly well-off people who live on passive income, but that’s not going to stop our elected leaders from using words like INCLUSION and INTENTIONAL to address systemic racism and inequality.

Another thing our amazingly sensitive and open elected leaders will do is point to the symbolic victories they think means something to people experiencing systemic racism, inequality and state-sanctioned execution.

And we can of course rely on the Missoula Current to deliver all this heart-felt hand-wringing:

Most members of the Missoula City Council delivered a message of hope and unity during Monday night’s meeting, though the message was partially lost to technical difficulties. But several city and county leaders are looking to go further by building bridges and reaching out with inclusion in mind.

“We need to open ourselves – our ears, our minds and our hearts to everyone in this community and see things from their perspective,” council member Mirtha Becerra told the Missoula Current. “How can we intentionally include people as opposed to ensuring we’re not excluding? I think there’s a difference there.”

Hey, I have an idea. How about you include citizen input in EVERY EXPENDITURE of public money that flows from the Missoula Redevelopment Agency?

No, that would be an actual policy change. What our elected leaders like to do is shit like this:

“I’d like to see us, as a community, form a committee where we invite minority groups and start a dialogue on what things we’re doing well and where we need to improve,” she said. “I think we need to go beyond making sure that our policies and regulations and ordinances aren’t discriminatory, but be intentionally inclusive to see how we can incorporate the views and perspectives of those who could be effected.”

While Montana isn’t always known for progressive causes, Missoula has emerged in the past as a rare exception. In 2010, the city adopted the first equality ordinance in the state, protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

On the very night this equality ordinance was passed into law, Raymond Big Beaver and Joey Gonzalez, two homeless men, beat Johnny Belmarez to death in an alley about 500 feet from where City Council was voting.

Addressing homelessness, addiction and the disproportionate number of Native Americans in Montana prisons means addressing generations of oppression and abuse. So what have our elected leaders done to make headway on the systemic racism Native Americans experience in Montana?

Dave Strohmaier cast one of the votes in favor of the ordinance that April night. Now a Missoula County commissioner, he’s still pushing for social justice and equity, including the acknowledgment of the region’s minority groups.

As a commissioner, Strohmaier has spearheaded a number of efforts that have seen the county add the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe’s flag to its courthouse hearing room and renaming the room itself after Salish cultural leader Sophie Moise.

Provide better access to treatment for addiction? Increase support services? No, rename a space where Native Americans are condemned to a cage with the name of one of their cultural leaders.

After Johnny Belmarez was beaten to death, his assailants were charged and a trial occurred.

After Sean Stevenson was strangled to death by Johnny Lee Perry at the Poverello Center last December, an investigation happened, but ultimately no charges were filed by the County Attorney’s office. There will be no trial. Johnny Lee Perry, according to authorities, used “justifiable force” to strangle Stevenson, so he’s free to walk the streets.

Now that the investigation has concluded, and the County Attorney’s office decided NOT to bring charges, local media should be able to see documents related to this case, if requested, right?

What if I told you one local media outlet has made requests and is being stonewalled by the County Attorney’s office? Would that make you curious about the reason why?

Sean Stevenson was a black man who was at a low point in his life, considering he was utilizing shelter services. He came to Montana and was working to get his life back on track. He was killed in our community, and one of the first things our Sheriff’s Department wanted us to know about Sean Stevenson was that he was from out of state:

A man who was involved in an assault at Missoula’s homeless shelter last week has passed away.

Missoula County Sheriff TJ McDermott reports that Sean Stevenson, 45, who is from out of state, died after being involved in an altercation on Friday night at the Poverello Center.

Not from our state, so not our problem, right? Not worth figuring out what actually happened that night, right?

In light of what happened to Stevenson, and the response by authorities, I find the current virtue signaling from our elected leaders happening this week to be extra disgusting.

Before the pandemic hit, citizens of this town WERE SPEAKING OUT about inequality. Awareness was increasing about Tax Increment Financing and how this incentive scheme contributed to the housing crisis.

Things came to a head in February when the same County Attorney’s office that refused to charge Johnny Lee Perry with a crime decided to use its prosecutorial powers to go after Brandon Bryant, an activist and veteran whistleblower, on felony charges for allegedly threatening public officials.

You see, throwaway people do exist in our liberal utopia, and they can literally kill each other and face no consequences of prison time, but make elected officials feel unsafe, and you might just spend a decade of your life behind bars.

I’ll wrap up this post with the one Commissioner who is not a white man:

Commissioner Juanita Vero offered similar sentiments, saying the pandemic, coupled with recent events, have laid bare a flawed system that lacks justice for all.

“The outrage and injustice that’s been demonstrated and people are feeling is connected,” she said. “It’s important for the dominate culture to recognize its role in creating a system that does not serve all of us but only serves some of us.”

The dominant culture wants to convene committees and add flags and rename rooms. This is called window dressing. And you know what, elected leaders of Missoula?

Fuck your window dressing.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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9 Responses to Sorry, Missoula Leaders, But Virtue-Signaling Rhetoric And Symbolic Gestures Won’t Cut It

  1. TC says:

    Very good overview of the City/County “leaders’” performative advocacy.
    I’m sure their new Wokeness will have the same level of success as “the 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness” .

  2. Mary Stevenson says:

    Thanks , Skink~ Sean Stevenson’s mother

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. please know the questions won’t stop until some answers come out of the County Attorney’s office. I don’t think they can stonewall local media forever.

  3. Joe Banks says:

    Your comments are meaningful and impacting concerning the overlooked, non-justice, murder mystery of Sean Stevenson (another black man). One would think that this matter is worth reviewing because of the clearly displayed racial bias through our country. In light of the current bad police policies toward Black people that are now being revealed and broadcast daily through the various independent media sources worldwide. It is painful to see and the Feds should come in to check the actual police bodycams footage to get a true story of the events that surrounded this very sad loss of life and who stood to benefit from silencing him. It’s evident that the Police and the District Attorneys Office have worked together to cover-up the true facts and they have refused to charge a murderer and bring him to trial. This is just another swamp that needs to be drained because the stench from there actions is overwhelming.

  4. Aydanah says:

    First, thank you to Skink for being a human who gives a damn! I’ll never forget that January day my best friend called me to tell me her brother, Sean, had been murdered. It was like the life had been sucked right out me. I screamed, I cried, I tried to make sense of it all, but I couldn’t and with all the pain, anger and confusion I was feeling, I knew it paled in comparison to what Sean’s family was going through! Then, as the days went on, finding out such details like Johnny Lee Perry was on top of Sean, as he held him in a chokehold which led to his death. To add insult to injury, as if the way Sean was murdered wasn’t traumatic enough, the so-called prosecutors deemed they had “ample” evidence that Perry used “justifiable” force and therefore he wouldn’t be charged with ANY crime. Right, because when you’re the person strangling someone while you’re on top of them it’s called “self defense”? So that would mean when you’re the person pinned to the ground struggling for air you’re the threat??? I’m sure the cops would have claimed “self defense” and stated they used “justifiable” force in the case of George Floyd, but unfortunately for those police officers, their actions were being recorded for the whole world to see. We watched an officer kneel of George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while George Floyd was already handcuffed and pinned to the ground. He repeatedly said “I can’t breathe”, but none of the officers did anything to help him. I can’t help but wonder what Sean’s last moments of life were like? What were SEAN’S LAST WORDS? Did Sean cry out “I CAN’T BREATHE” while Johnny Lee Perry kept choking him and while the so-called witnesses did nothing to help? Or was Johnny Lee Perry’s chokehold so strong that it prevented Sean from being able to say anything? George Floyd lost consciousness and the officer continued to kneel on him. Did Sean also lose consciousness, as Perry continued choking him? Because if so, Sean could have no way been a “threat” to Perry, if he were already passed out. But, if Perry continued choking Sean to the extent of killing him, then wouldn’t that mean he had crossed the line of “self defense”? Ask yourselves this, prosecutors, had Johnny Lee Perry released Sean from his “justifiable” chokehold a little sooner could we say it’s possible Sean would have only passed out to later regain consciousness? Now, imagine had the officer who kneeled on George’s Floyd’s neck (for nearly nine minutes) removed his knee SOONER to allow Floyd a chance to breathe, George Floyd would still be alive! I don’t need a video to know had Johnny Lee Perry not choked Sean for as long as he did, Sean would STILL BE ALIVE! The officers involved in George Floyd’s death committed a CRIME because they went too far by unjustly taking a man’s life. Johnny Lee Perry went TOO FAR and UNJUSTLY took Sean’s life!!! If any one of those prosecutors have a soul, I’m pleading with them to take a deep, hard & HONEST look at their “ample evidence” and reconsider fighting for what’s right! Place your brother, your son, or your best friend in Sean’s place. How would you look at the EVIDENCE? Sean Stevenson, whether from “out of state” or not, deserves the same justice you would give anyone you loved. Put VALUE on SEAN’S LIFE, just as you would your own because that’s the right thing to do and that’s what Sean Stevenson and his family rightfully deserve! You have the positions you have which give you POWER TO CREATE CHANGE! JUSTICE FOR ALL, not just for you!!!

  5. Mark says:

    My name is Mark. I graduated high school with Sean in 1992. Has there been any progress on this case?

  6. Pingback: Nine Months Later, Questions Persist Around The Violent Deaths (Murders?) Of Sean Stevenson And Ben Mousso | Reptile Dysfunction

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