Wednesday morning, new black markings could be seen on a new rainbow crosswalk that stretches across Pine Street near the Missoula Art Museum’s art park.
The markings, which appear to be tire burnout marks, are suspected to be vandalism. While two markings could be seen on the crosswalk Tuesday, by Wednesday morning there were as many as seven.
Claire Michelson, Empower Montana’s youth programs director, said Crime Prevention Officer Ethan Smith is conducting an investigation into the alleged vandalism. Michelson said footage from the Missoula Art Museum’s security cameras could be used.
Cassidy Tucker, the MAM’s visitor services coordinator, said the museum has security cameras around the art park that can see the crosswalk, but the images would most likely be poor quality. With over a hundred hours of possible footage, Tucker said they’d need to know a time window.
While a bias act that “damages, destroys, or defaces any property of another or any public property'' is a hate crime under Montana state law, sexual orientation and gender identity are not included in the law.
Advisory: video contains explicit language
Acts of bias perpetrated because of “involvement in civil rights or human rights activities” are protected under the law. It is unclear if the law would protect the crosswalk built by Empower Montana, a nonprofit that advocates for marginalized communities in Montana.
“Targeted vandalism like this is meant to intimidate members of the LGBTQ community,” wrote Kim Abbott, co-director of the Montana Human Rights Network, in an email.
Michelson said these acts against a symbol of love and inclusion reminds her, and everyone fighting for equality, that there is still a long way to go when it comes to building bridges with those they don’t agree with.
Abbott wrote that although she knows most Missoulians are welcoming and accepting of LGBTQ community members, “the Network continues to receive reports of harassment and vandalism targeted at the LGBTQ community.”
Michelson’s biggest worry isn’t the logistics of repairing the crosswalk, but of the toll the vandalism and hateful comments on Facebook are having on the youth that made this project happen.
“I was looking for a good place to melt my tires… problem solved,” by a writer calling himself Paul Thornton, and “I was thinking the same thing...black stripes are better than rainbows,” by a writer calling himself Lance Bobcamper, were both comments on the Missoulian's Facebook post about the crosswalk.
Comments like these take a toll on the mental health of members of the LGBTQ community, Michelson said.
“We knew some push back would happen, anticipated vandalism, but not so soon and not to this extent,” Michelson said. The crosswalk was installed on Sunday.
Andy Nelson, operations administrator for the Western Montana LGBT Community Center, said Missoula is the perfect place for the first rainbow crosswalk in Montana because, despite the vandalism, the community is supportive of the LGBTQ community.
“Seeing a rainbow on the street makes a person feel welcome and the vandalization does not take away from it,” Nelson said.
He said the LGBTQ community has always received push back and this is no different.
“It won’t make us hide or stop living our truth.”
While Empower Montana continues to decide what the repair process will look like with the assistance of the City of Missoula and the Missoula Police Department, Michelson said “we aren’t going to let this shake us.”
"We're still working hard, loving our community and this will only bring us closer together."