GRAND JUNCTION, CO – It’s been said on social media, magazine articles, and newspaper opinion columns repeatedly over the last few weeks: America, get ready to confront the realities of racism. It will not be comfortable. In fact, it’s not supposed to be.
That message hit close to home towards the close of Monday night’s meeting of the Grand Junction City Council, when a heated exchange broke out among Council members Anna Stout, Phillip Pe’a, and Mayor Duke Wortmann.
Most of the meeting’s discussions revolved around typical property issues, but towards the last few minutes, during the open communications period, Mr. Pe’a addressed Ms. Stout directly regarding the June 3 meeting. That meeting became “historic”, in the words of local Black activists, as the City Council met in front of a room packed with activists who had engaged in peaceful protests outside. A small group of Black residents, led by Jay Bishop, had presented a list of demands to the Council during that meeting, including meetings with local law enforcement.
Last night’s Council meeting was equally on edge.
Mr. Pe’a and Mr. Wortmann argued that the Council was not appropriately notified in advance of the protestors’ participation in that meeting. Mr. Wortmann decried what he referred to as a “complete lack of respect for the decorum that’s been created for a hundred years in this room.” He went on to accuse the protestors of “creating a mass hysteria, and then they tell me that I’m waving my eyes and I’m not. It’s just that when they went to the m-f [word] and calling us m-f-ers, I have a problem with that.”
Ms. Stout countered and said that police and city manager had been notified that there would be protestors at the meeting, hence the presence of police outside City Hall. She added that since it had been a public meeting, anyone was welcome to attend. “They were peaceful protests.”
“Peaceful protests,” Mr. Wortmann snapped with sarcasm. “People ranting and raving and screaming about who to vote for.”
Later on, Mr. Pe’a referred to what he said were his immediate reaction when he saw the protestors and police outside City Hall. “I didn’t know whether to bring my Glock with me to the building or not. Seriously.”
Video from that meeting, both inside and outside City Hall, as well as Facebook reports, indicate peaceful protests, full of people waving homemade signs and drive-by cars honking their horns in support. Activists who spoke at the microphone at the meeting shared their stories of marginalization and fear of law enforcement, and pleas for change.
At the Monday meeting, Ms. Stout didn’t flinch in the face of her colleagues’ ire. “I understand that you guys want me to respect a hundred years of decorum, but that’s not in the City Charter that requires me to follow any sort of decorum.”
“Well, let’s make it part of it then,” Mr. Pe’a, visibly irritated, responded. “Because I’m not going to put up with it. […] Here’s my promise to you, Anna. Next time it happens, I won’t be as pleasant. And it’s going to be hostile.”
At this point, Council member Phyllis Norris tried to strike a conciliatory note, while trying to reinforce Mr. Pea’s and Mr. Wortmann’s arguments. “You [Ms. Stout] were leading something for all of us to jump on board, but I think some people — myself included — they were brought in here to attack. And it was uncomfortable for everyone. Because that’s not what they were trying to do. They were trying to make us, help us understand what they’re going through. And it didn’t come across feeling that way because we felt like it was just dumped on us.”
The meeting can be viewed on the City Council’s website at this link. The above discussion begins at around 3:01:49.