GRAND JUNCTION, CO – Wednesday evening’s Grand Junction City Council meeting got off to a cautious start, as Council members attempted to address a controversial incident at Monday’s meeting that resulted in two male Council members appearing to bully and insult the youngest, a woman, among them.
Speaking to an auditorium full of residents, Council member Phillip Pe’a apologized to the audience and admitted that “my emotions got the best of me.” He apologized to the Black community and said that his frustration and anger were not directed at them. Mr. Pe’a called out local Black activist Antonio Clark, who sat in the front row, specifically as someone he had been working with to begin enacting the changes demanded by Mr. Clark and his fellow Black protestors at the June 3 meeting.
“That set [the conversation] back, and I apologize,” Mr. Pe’a said.
Council member Phyllis Norris said that the Council had received a number of emails and thanked the community for their feedback. Council member Rick Taggart, his voice thick with emotion, said he felt “embarrassed and frustrated and angered” that night and in turn also apologized “for being quiet.” He said he was quiet because he “wanted the conversation to end,” and that he “felt bad that I didn’t back up my fellow Council member Stout.”
For the first time since the Council meeting began, the audience clapped.
Council member Anna Stout, who had been the target of Mayor Duke Wortmann’s and Mr. Pe’a’s anger on Monday evening for what they perceived as a lack of “class” and understanding of the “decorum” of the chamber, thanked the community for the “hundreds and hundreds” of messages of support and encouragement she had received over the previous day, ever since video of the Monday meeting was released to the public.
Ms. Stout went on to provide an update on the task force discussed at the June 3 meeting. She said that the committee had finalized the details of who would be asked to join the task force, a group of about 15-16 individuals who “represent marginalized members of the community” to directly address systemic bias and inequality. Another update will be announced on Friday during the community Juneteenth celebration.
Once the public comments section of the agenda was announced, a long line of citizens gathered towards the back of the room. Demetrius Davis, a member of Right & Wrong (RAW), spoke first. He apologized to Ms. Norris for “coming in too harsh” at the June 3 meeting, but criticized Mr. Pe’a and Mayor Wortmann for “bullying” Ms. Stout, saying that “you guys don’t truly understand true respect.”
One by one, about two dozen Grand Junction residents stepped up to the microphone and directed most of their fury at Mr. Pe’a and Mayor Wortmann. Ryan Smith called their behavior “unbecoming and childish,” while Matthew Crowe mocked Mr. Pe’a’s Monday night remarks about feeling the need to bring out his Glock during the June 3 meeting. “Councilman Pe’a, please don’t shoot me. Oh wait, I don’t have to worry, I’m a white man.”
Jay Freeman, also a RAW member and Black activist, said, “I’m not here to complain.” He said that all he wants is for the Council to “show me [that] we matter by putting us in the agenda on these meetings. I don’t think I’m asking too much. ‘How can we tackle systemic racism in Grand Junction?’ Just write it down. All I ask.”
A few citizens demanded that either the Mayor and/or Mr. Pe’a resign, including Zach Grant, who said that “apologies are great, but I think action is better.”
Two men, both white, spoke in defense of Mr. Pe’a and Mayor Wortmann. One man, dressed in a red tank top and red MAGA hat, yelled that he came from Atlanta, “the most racist community in America,” and said that the particular brand of racism there was “black on white.” He went on to claim that “racism didn’t exist on the Western Slope until Black Lives Matter moved in here a few years ago,” at which point a thumping chorus of boos and harsh whistles drowned out his voice. Eventually he began screaming and cursing at the audience and caused such a disruption that he was escorted out by law enforcement.
Jennifer Hancock, a CMU professor of English, read aloud some vicious, racist messages that she and a colleague had compiled from various social media posts circulating around the community. She said that she had sent them to the Council but had only received one response, from Mr. Taggart. Sometime during her presentation another man snorted derisively before standing up near the back of the room and storming out.
Ms. Hancock concluded, “It’s not enough to listen to people of color, but you also have to listen to the hate speech that they have to listen to. If you demand decorum in your chamber, then demand it of your citizens.” She asked the Council to issue a statement specifically condemning hate speech.
By the time the Council broke for a brief recess before moving on to other agenda items, the room had largely emptied. The meeting adjourned shortly before 8:30.