by William Skink
When it comes to gentrification, Missoula is late to the party. Bigger, more urban cities have been experiencing gentrification for decades. Historically, gentrification has often impacted minority neighborhoods, transforming them into high-end enclaves of privilege.
But how does this actually play out on the streets?
For today’s lesson on gentrification, let’s begin with some insightful lyrics from Oakland-based Hip-Hop group, The Coup:
Mr Coke said to Mr Mayor: “you know, we got a process like Ice T’s hair
We put up the funds for your election campaign
And, oh, um, waiter can you bring the champagne?
Our real estate firm says opportunity’s arousing
To make some condos out of low-income housing
Immediately, we need some media heat
To say that gangs run the street and then we bring in the police fleet!
Harass and beat everybody til they look inebriated
When we buy the land, motherfuckas will appreciate it
Don’t worry about the Urban League or Jesse Jackson
My man that owns Marlboro donated a fat sum”
That’s when I stepped back some to contemplate what few know
Sat down, wrestled with my thoughts like a sumo
Ain’t no one player that could beat this lunacy
Ain’t no hustler on the street could do a whole community
This is how deep shit can get
It reads “macaroni” on my birth certificate
“Puddin’-Tang” is my middle name, but I can’t hang
I’m getting hustled only knowing half the game
Since I grew up listening to music like this (along with many of my white, suburban peers), I can help translate these lyrics: the public sector and private sector collude with media to create narratives that benefit land developers, and even race-card players like Jesse Jackson are controlled through strategic funding. The speaker of this poem concludes with the epiphany that he can’t hang because he’s getting hustled only knowing half the game.
Hyping violence (or looking the other way as drugs flood communities of color) drives down land value so developers can swoop in. But it can work the other way as well.
Down play violence in order to NOT SCARE AWAY investment.
Is this why the Missoula County Attorney’s office is suddenly shy about prosecuting killers?
Cue Project Safe Neighborhood, an initiative from Montana’s Department of Justice:
For the second straight year, murders, robberies and aggravated assaults in Missoula County have decreased as law enforcement continues investigating and prosecuting methamphetamine trafficking, firearms offenses and armed robberies through Project Safe Neighborhoods, announced federal, state and local prosecutors today.
Crime statistics show that in Missoula County, these violent crimes decreased by 9.2 percent in the 12-month period ending May 2020. Overall, violent crime has decreased 25.7 percent since PSN was launched in May 2018, and 85 fewer people were the victim of a violent crime than in the 12 months before PSN began.
Please note, dear readers, that the violent deaths of Sean Stevenson and Ben Mousso occurred during the latter end of this 12-month time period. Since the killers of these two men were deemed to be acting in self defense, POOF! No violent crime occurred, at least not according to the numbers.
From my perspective, Project Safe Neighborhood (PSN) appears to be a continuation of the Obama-era fusion centers that got their start subverting Occupy Wall Street. I’ll use Wikipedia for “their” definition of what Fusion Centers were/are:
Fusion Centers are designed to promote information sharing at the federal level between agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Justice, and state, local, and tribal law enforcement. As of February 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recognized 79 fusion centers. Fusion centers may also be affiliated with an Emergency Operations Center that responds in the event of a disaster.
Now, with that definition in mind, here are the partners for PSN:
PSN Missoula County’s partners include the U.S. Attorney’s Office; Missoula County Attorney’s Office; Montana Department of Justice’s Prosecution Services Bureau, Highway Patrol and Division of Criminal Investigation; the Montana Department of Correction’s Adult Probation and Parole Division; the Missoula Police Department; the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office; Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; FBI, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Marshal’s Service.
“The continuing decline in violent crime in Missoula County is great news for the community. This focus on taking meth dealers and the most dangerous offenders off the street is working. But we’re not done. We also must reduce demand for meth through a comprehensive prevention, treatment and diversion plan. I want to recognize the cooperation and hard work of all of our PSN partners for making Missoula County a safer place to live,” U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme said.
What are all these powerful government agencies willing to do to meet their objectives? Are they willing to work with criminals as CIs (confidential informants) in order to climb the drug dealer food chain? Are they willing to pressure local government into not prosecuting killers in order to claim statistical victory and further individual careers?
With all the fear over the pandemic, and a serious vacuum of investigative journalism in Missoula, there is less scrutiny than ever before regarding how our criminal justice system is functioning at the local, state and federal levels.
If our County Attorney’s office has decided to bestow drug dealers and mentally unstable homeless people like Johnny Lee Perry with a license to kill, shouldn’t we, as a caring and concerned community, ask why?