A Grand Junction Councilmember’s Controversial Comments About Protesters Led To A Tense Council Meeting

Stina Sieg/CPR News
Protesters, including many Colorado Mesa University students, march in Grand Junction in a demonstration against the death of George Floyd and police brutality on Monday, June 1, 2020.

A tattooed man in a “Make America Great Again” hat flipping off a booing crowd was just one of many heated moments at Wednesday night’s Grand Junction City Council meeting.

The meeting was packed with anti-racism activists and sprinkled with a few counter-protesters — both sides were galvanized by a video of Monday night’s meeting, in which several council members criticized councilwoman Anna Stout. She had invited activists to share their comments with the council earlier in June as Grand Junction's protests against police brutality and racism were growing.

In the video, councilmember Phillip Pe’a scolded Stout for reaching out to the activists. At one point, he made a controversial comment about how the large crowd had made him wonder if he should bring his gun

He walked back on those comments Wednesday night. 

“I let my emotions get the best of me at our last meeting,” he said, speaking to the nearly full audience. “I just wanted to let you guys know it was not directed at the movement. My fear wasn't about the people who were here. I had family that were there, marching with you guys. I had friends that were there. It had nothing to do with you. All it had to do with was the process.”

He also apologized to the council as a whole, but did not specifically address Stout. 

Many people who stood up to give public comments thanked Stout and spoke out against those who had criticized her.

Young black activist Demetrius Davis told Pe’a and Mayor Duke Wortmann he thought what they did amounted to bullying.

“I think you guys bullied Ms. Stout very hard the other day,” Davis said.

Others asked for Pe’a to resign. 

While most of the commenters expressed support for Grand Junction’s growing peaceful protest movement, a white man named Marc Coutu argued that racism “didn’t exist” on the Western Slope “until Black Lives Matter moved here about three years ago.”

“Then they made it an issue,” Coutu said. 

As people in the crowd started to argue with him, he shouted them down with an obscenity.

Wortmann urged people to let Coutu speak, and Coutu continued to blame “out-of-state agitators” for racial unrest in Grand Junction. Everyone who spoke at the meeting identified themselves as Mesa County residents. 

As the crowd started to boo Coutou, he raised both middle fingers and walked away.

The next speaker, a young black woman named Amber Johnson, was clearly stunned.

“What we need to be doing is coming together against that sort of scenario. That was terrifying, to say the least,” Johnson said. “I have to walk back out there. I have to walk back out there with those people.”

After more than an hour of public comment, most of the crowd made their way outside into the windy evening.

Ta’Lor Jackson, who’s also black, said that as disturbing as it was to have hate on display at the meeting, “I’m kind of glad people got to see that in action.

"Because it honestly just proves everything we’ve been saying up until this point,” she said.

Correction: A previous version of this story used the wrong first name for Amber Johnson. It also incorrectly identified Ta'Lor Jackson's gender.