Several people, including a couple members of the Montezuma County Patriots, joined a counterprotest Saturday evening against the Walk for Justice and Peace, crossing Main Street and confronting walkers face to face during their weekly demonstration in Cortez.
Police officers were called to the scene.
Justice and Peace walkers remained silent, holding peace signs and continuing to walk down Main Street as counterprotesters followed them, shouting “Go home” and “You don’t belong in our community.”
One counterprotester yelled, “Go back to Boston, and if you come back, you will be in trouble,” referring to Dawn Robertson, a co-organizer of the Walk for Justice and Peace. She recently moved to Cortez to work for AmeriCorps, a nonprofit organization that hires volunteers to fulfill community needs in fields such as health care and education.
Trucks with American, Trump for President, Don’t Tread on Me, Thin Blue Line and Confederate flags were parked along Main Street.
Raleigh Marmorstein, an organizer of the Walk for Justice, called a nonemergency dispatch number to alert police as phrases from the counterprotesters turned threatening and included obscenities.
Two Cortez police officers approached the counterprotesters and asked them to stop using swear words. Counterprotesters replied that they have First Amendment rights to speak on public property.
“But when you guys start swearing obscenities, that’s a problem,” the officer said.
A handful of counterprotesters then crossed Main Street to where members of the Walk for Justice and Peace stood, yelling “All lives matter” and calling the Walk for Peace and Justice members holding Black Lives Matter signs “part of a terrorist organization.”
“We’re trying to run them out of town,” one counterprotester said.
Police officers stayed with the Walk for Justice and Peace marchers to monitor their safety as several counterprotesters targeted one woman with a rainbow flag draped over her shoulder, confronting her and asking “Are you gay? Are you gay?”
One woman holding an American flag crossed the street and followed Robertson, a co-organizer of the walk, as she led the marchers back up Main Street toward St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, where the walk begins and ends each Saturday.
Another counterprotester yelled that a man participating in the walk did not deserve to hold an American flag.
“I’m a disabled Vietnam veteran,” the walker, Jim Mischke, said. “Yelling ‘go home’ doesn’t make sense,” because he’s lived in Cortez his whole life, he said.
Another confronted a Journal reporter, saying “You’re an uneducated (expletive deleted).”
After the walk, counterprotesters drove by the church courtyard, continuing to yell “go home” to the marchers.
“I relish free speech,” Mischke said, “but it doesn’t need to be aggressive or intimidating.”
Marmorstein said she was proud of the Justice and Peace walkers for remaining calm and resilient during the confrontation.
Late Saturday night, Cortez Mayor Mike Lavey told The Journal the City Council “needs to get together to discuss this.”
“We need to have the police there before something happens,” Lavey said. “We need to avoid these confrontations.”