Emotional Message from Mayor Engen on Racism and Policing
Missoula Mayor John Engen published an emotional open letter to Missoula on his feelings about local and national issues that have come to the forefront in the past few weeks.
Engen first expressed his gratitude for the life he has had growing up in Missoula.
“This is the place I love,” began Engen. “I’ve lived my life here. I was lucky enough to be born here and lucky enough to be born to two parents who loved me and took care of me and guided me in a community that showed me that love as well. It’s allowed me to have a rich and full and interesting life here, and I want that for everyone.”
One topic that has captured Mayor Engen’s total attention is racism with the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police. He expressed his feelings about the issue.
“Just trying to be sincere, acknowledging that I believe that black lives matter, that people have the right to peaceably assemble,” he said. “I believe that we can all get better, and unless we commit to some sort of a plan and we’re intentional, and we really listen and learn and collaborate to make change, then we’re likely not going to.”
Engen got more specific about the issue of racism.
“My belief that we have deeply rooted challenges around racism and discrimination,” he said. “That police brutality is a real issue in our country is not mutually exclusive of my support for the Missoula Police Department. I’ve been able to work with these individuals over the course of 14 years now, and as with every organization and every department in the city of Missoula, not everyone is perfect, and some are far from perfect, and some cannot do the job and we address that as necessary.”
Engen acknowledged the difficulty and challenge of being a police officer.
“I know that the women and men of the police department enter this profession in the interest of taking care of their friends and neighbors,” he said. “They believe in protecting and serving. At the end of the day, they want to help people. Being a cop is really difficult work to begin with and when you layer in the cloud that comes with the actions of officers in other communities and the job becomes all that more difficult.”
Engen praised the new Missoula Chief of Police, Jaeson White.
“Jaeson is smart, thoughtful and a great communicator,” he said. “He wants to take care of people and recognize that his profession to a certain degree is under siege. I think he can do two things in a situation like that. One is you can go on the defense, or you can acknowledge that there is improvement to be made on all fronts.”
Engen reference an email he recently received from an individual that had never felt safe in Missoula, something that troubled him.
“The Missoula Police Department is not the Minneapolis Police Department, it’s not the Seattle Police Department and it’s not the New Orleans Police Department,” he said. “Our statistics reflect that, but there’s more we need to know. I’ve talked to and received emails from residents who tell me that they’ve never felt safe, and I often say I don’t know what I don’t know, and if that’s the case, I want to know more,. And I want to know what we can do to address that.”
Mayor Engen also reflected back to when Missoula was the focus on a Justice Department investigation on the issue of sexual assault, when he worked closely with Detective Captain Mike Colyer during that tumultuous period.
“Mike and I lived through and managed through and adapted through the sexual assault investigation by the Department of Justice and we came out of that a better agency, and I think a better community,” he said. “It was painful, it caused us to do a lot of self-reflection, but our agreement with the Department of Justice ended up making us a better and safer place.”
Mayor Engen has said he will be returning for another appearance on the KGVO Talk Back show sometime in the near future.