Claire Peterson

(KPAX) A U.S. Department of Justice initiative aims to combat hate crimes and hate incidents in Montana communities.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Montana hosted the United Against Hate meeting on Friday, June 16, 2023, in Missoula, detailing how they deal with hate crimes.

“Our office knows we have an obligation, both legal and moral, to hold individuals accountable for crimes driven by all forms of hatred. The truth is we have too much hate in our country,” said U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich.

Laslovich was joined by a panel of leaders from the FBI, University of Montana, Housing and Urban Development and Missoula County and city Law enforcement, addressing hate against the LGBTQ+ community.

"We certainly have many injustices in our past, and those can’t be forgotten, they must be remembered and used as a learning opportunity to teach people that acceptance is the way to go. And I’m hopeful for that. I really am,” said Matt Jennings with the Missoula County Attorney’s Office.

They spoke about what a hate crime looks like during the meeting and how their own organizations handle discrimination and hate crimes.

“If we have a hate crime act violation, I’m going to contact the FBI civil rights unit,” explained FBI Special Agent Charles Sampson.

“I think there’s nothing more deterring for people, though, when they feel like they’ve experienced harm, and quite likely have, they report it, and then they feel like no one is doing anything,” noted University of Montana Associate Vice President of Conflict Alicia Arant. “There are micro and macro aggressions that happen all the time and that are reported, and because they don’t rise to the level of being actionable per university policy, I have to sit with people every day and say you are not unsafe, you are uncomfortable."

That includes the Pride Parade which was held on Saturday in downtown Missoula.

“We do expect some protestors, I’m not sure what form that’s going to take, they will probably be displaying some signs that are very offensive to any right-minded individual, and they have a right to do that,” Missoula Police Department Detective LGBTQ+ Liaison Ethan Smith said. “Not only that, but we have an obligation to provide them with a space to peacefully protest without threatening or trying to intimidate those who are trying to participate in the Pride festivities.

Those who attended Friday's event felt they have a better understanding of what their law enforcement does to protect them.

"It felt really gratifying that they were looking out for these communities and had their best interest and were doing their best to work within the system we have in place,” said Lucy Sirrs.

“I was really impressed to hear what Missoula was doing to make our police department more inclusive and having outreach and being aware of the threats, Julie Sirrs concluded.