Denver will formally apologize for the anti-Chinese riot that left a person dead in 1880

Colorado Asian Pacific United, or CAPU, has been advocating for raising awareness about the city’s once-thriving Chinatown.

A historic marker in LoDo that details the "Chinese Riot of 1880." Feb. 25, 2021.

A historic marker in LoDo that details the "Chinese Riot of 1880." Feb. 25, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Denver will apologize next week to early Chinese immigrants and their descendants for its role in an anti-Chinese riot in 1880 that left one person dead and led to the destruction of the city’s Chinatown.

Colorado Asian Pacific United, or CAPU, organized the event in conjunction with the city, according to Joie Ha, who serves as vice-chair for CAPU and the lead organizer for the event.

The event is scheduled to take place on April 16 at the University of Colorado Denver’s Lawrence Street Center downtown.

Ha said Denver is the fifth city in the country and the first outside California to issue such an apology. Ha said CAPU worked closely with the Human Rights and Community Partnerships executive director Derek Okubo to come up with the resolution.

“It’s really amazing that Denver, even though we are not on the coast, is taking this progressive approach and issuing this apology and committing to do more for the [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders] community,” Ha said.

An anti-Chinese riot broke out on Oct. 31, 1880, in what is now LoDo. The riot involved white people attacking Chinese residents following an argument, and it led to the fatal beating of Look Young, a Chinese laundry worker. The event is considered the city’s first race riot.

Mike Strott, a spokesperson for Mayor Michael Hancock’s office, said the ceremony on April 16 will “promote reconciliation, inclusivity and education around the history and culture of Asian American/Pacific Islander Coloradans.” Ha said descendants of the early Chinese immigrants in Denver will be at the event to accept the resolution.

CAPU last year started advocating for a new language for a historic marker commemorating the city’s former Chinatown, which was destroyed following the riot.

Cities in California, including San Jose, Los Angeles and San Francisco, all recently issued apologies to Chinese residents over discriminatory events in their history.

The apologies come as Asian-Americans across the country face a sharp increase in hate crimes against them. Data provided by Denver police show reported crimes involving anti-Asian bias accounted for a small percentage of all reported hate crimes, though five reported crimes in 2021 were slightly higher than the three reported in 2020.

Around 4% of Denver’s population is Asian, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.

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