MISSOULA — As a Hispanic woman, Missoula City Council member Mirtha Becerra has never felt targeted or discriminated against. Until now.
In an emotional commentary at Monday night’s council meeting, Becerra said the attack that killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, over the weekend “shook me to my core.”
The killer has confessed to the massacre, and targeted Hispanics and immigrants in a racist rant published online shortly before the tragedy.
“I believe the racist commentary that has taken place at the national level has not helped,” Becerra said. “And the statistics that I read – that more than 255 mass shootings have taken place this year alone – is simply not acceptable.”
“I am demoralized,” she said, “to learn that most people talk about thoughts and prayers. I don’t know what we can do as a community, but I believe that it is time to wake up and it is time to change the conversation, so that we can have more inclusive and more acceptable conversations at all levels.”
Several council members used their allotted time near the end of Monday night’s meeting to discuss the violence in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio, over the weekend – as well as racist graffiti that vandalized a new pedestrian underpass in Missoula last week.
Councilwoman Stacie Anderson asked the council and audience to join her in a moment of silence for the 31 people killed and scores of others injured in the mass shootings.
Council members Heather Harp and Jesse Ramos talked about their anger at the vandal who sprayed a racial epithet and swastika onto the new pedestrian and bicyclist tunnel beneath Russell Street.
Ramos called the graffiti “disgusting” and labeled the vandal a coward.
“Not only did they vandalize public property,” Ramos said, “but they also made people in this community feel unsafe, especially in the wake of the shootings, where there is disgusting white supremacy going on across the whole country. To think that they can pollute Missoula like that just absolutely angers me.”
Harp called on the vandal to “come forward and take the consequences of his or her actions.”
“It was an act of vandalism that was filled with hate,” Harp said, “and what makes it so disappointing is not only – for whatever reason – this person was picking a fight with who knows who, but how much work and effort all those construction workers spent months and months producing something that the rest of us can be proud of.
“It’s our taxpayer dollars at work, and a benefit we all need to enjoy, and someone thought it was his or her prerogative to make it their own. I condemn that.”
Said Ramos: “They should show themselves, and they should take responsibility for their actions, because Missoula has no place for hate.”
-Sherry Devlin reporting for the Missoula Current