A group of racial justice activists that marched from Lincoln Park to Grand Junction City Hall on Wednesday were met by a large group of counter-demonstrators.
The activists spoke about further changes they would like to see, while many of the other speakers thanked the council for its work and expressed support for local law enforcement.
Several dozen gathered outside the building waving American flags, some carrying firearms.
Michael Anton addressed the council with a number of concerns and re-ignited the issue of a billboard that recently went up in Grand Junction, thanking some city council members while omitting others.
Anton, a member of the Western Colorado Business Alliance, which took out the ad, again thanked the council members, leaving out council members Anna Stout and Chuck McDaniel.
“An individual member of the City Council seems to be driven to cause a lot of grief and heartache in the valley,” Anton said, adding later that “we’re willing to take back our City Council.”
Anton also voiced displeasure with activists in the community and urged council members to dismiss them.
“This RAW. This BLM. They need to go away,” Anton said. “They’re not Grand Junction and you need to send them down the road because, believe me, there’s a lot more of me here in this valley than there is of you. I guarantee it and it will not be a pretty day if that comes forth.”
Melinda Brown said she had come to the meeting Wednesday because she had heard Black Lives Matter and Antifa would be there. She thanked the City Council for their work. However, she said when she met two of the demonstrators who had marched, she learned that they were simply there to be heard.
“I sat in the atrium while you guys took care of business and I had quite a conversation with the Black lady and the Black tall gentlemen,” Brown said. “They just want to be understood.”
Matt Crowe, a Palisade High School teacher, said he was speaking on behalf of Right and Wrong (RAW), an activist organization that emerged in Grand Junction this summer to advocate for racial justice.
“I’m pleased to see a lot of the opposition turn out. I think it shows we’re having an effect,” Crowe said, drawing murmurs from some in the audience.
The audience interjection prompted Mayor Duke Wortmann to issue a warning regarding decorum.
“This is what’s gone wrong the last couple times and we’re going to stop it right now,” Wortmann said.
Crowe said he wanted to address some of the other residents who spoke about violence elsewhere in the country.
“I’m here to say that I’m a peaceful person and the people I work with in RAW are also peaceful people,” Crowe said. “Really what we’ve been petitioning this body to do is to hear us.”
Crowe, who is a longtime resident of Mesa County and Grand Junction, went on to speak about experiences he had with people of color who were different from him and how their life experiences were different. He asked that the council pursue policies for tax incentives to minority-owned businesses and funding for the Latino Chamber of Commerce.
Following the public comment period, Stout addressed the work of a task force that had been formed to address biases within the community.
She said it was a community- wide effort, mentioning the inclusion of law enforcement and the school district. She also said it was not simply about race or racism, but would look at many types of biases like difficulties faced by individuals with disabilities.
Stout said one of the things she noticed listening to comments that many touched on similar themes.
“If we were to close our eyes and listen to many of the messages of our citizens coming up here, the messages are very similar,” Stout said. “Wanting to listen to each other, wanting to understand each other and that’s I think incredibly encouraging.”
The next meeting of that task force will take place Thursday, August 13, at 6 p.m. at the Fruita Community Center.