MISSOULA – Police in Missoula are continuing to investigate after videos turned up showing repeated deliberate vandalism to Montana’s first rainbow crosswalk.
Another round of vandalism that took place late last week at EmpowerMT’s multi-colored crosswalk which was recently installed to show support for the LGBTQ community.
A group of motorcyclists purposely stopped and “burned out” over the crosswalk with witnesses saying the group continued to do damage, until multiple bystanders stood by to protect the crosswalk.
The Missoula Police Department is using pictures and video to identify vehicles that have caused damage and to potentially charge the vandals with a misdemeanor. One witness says he doesn’t understand why this has become such a hot button issue.
“Leave it alone. It doesn’t matter. If you go out of your way to spend time doing burn outs across it to show off for you buddies…it’s just dumb,” witness Nathan Gutierrez told MTN News. “Grow up. Go do some cruising and have some fun, but you don’t have to cause an underlying issue right now.”
Gutierrez says he’s has received multiple threats after sharing his video on social media.
“I got 30 some messages so far from people. People are saying, ‘if I see you downtown, I’m going to kick your teeth in’ and stuff like that — just because I filmed something that is completely disrespectful. And that’s the reason I filmed it.”
Many folks have raised concerns over the crosswalk using taxpayer dollars, but EmpowerMT raised the money themselves and hired a private contractor to do the work. The group also received permission from the City of Missoula and put in a citizen request for placement assistance in setting up the crosswalk.
EmpowerMT Youth Programs Director Claire Michelson says the hate toward the art installation is sparking a much needed conversation about the acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
“We know this is a form of artful expression and symbolism, but we still think that’s really powerful. Look at how much discussion this has already created and that means it’s powerful and it’s important to us,” Michelson said.
EmpowerMT is still working out the details on how they will fix the newly installed Rainbow Crosswalk.
The Missoula Police Department is asking for your help in identifying the drivers of the vehicles. Anyone with information is asked to contact Officer Ethan Smith at (406) 552-6335.
Reporting by Kent Luetzen for MTN News