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Denver leaders address rise in hate crimes after Martin Luther King Jr. monument vandalism

Councilwoman Shontel Lewis announced Monday the formation of a "unity" coalition to combat hate
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Posted at 4:05 PM, Feb 26, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-26 19:21:08-05

DENVER — Denver elected officials and other city leaders gathered Monday morning around the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. monument to address a rise in hate crimes across the state in the wake of the vandalism that occurred at the site last week.

The "I Have a Dream" monument in Denver's City Park was vandalized last week in the dead of night, with the vandals leaving the scene with a bronze panel that depicted Black Americans who fought in U.S. wars, along with two decorative emblems that depict an angel of love and a torch of freedom.

The Denver Police Department has opened an investigation in conjunction with the department's Bias Motivated Crime Unit, but whether investigators will classify the vandalism as a hate crime remains to be seen, as a motive has not yet been confirmed.

Still, Denver city leaders said it was important to address the rise in hate crimes that have occurred in Colorado.

Data from Hate Free Colorado, a coalition of 18 civil rights and advocacy organizations and 7 law enforcement agencies, shows a 9% increase in hate crimes across the state from 2022 to 2023. A 2022 survey from the coalition found that 1.25 million Coloradans said they were targeted with verbal harassment, property damage, and/or physical injury since 2020, according to Denver City Councilwoman Shontel Lewis.

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“We can start here with Dr. Martin Luther King's Jr. monument behind me, but there's also the historical marker from Denver's Chinatown that has officially gone missing, and we've seen racist graffiti at synagogues as well," she said, as she addressed the rise in hate crimes against Colorado's Jewish population in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.

During the news conference, Lewis also announced the formation of a coalition of city leaders to combat hate.

“You might consider it a Rainbow Coalition. So this afternoon at city council, sponsored by many reps that are here today, we are calling for unity. For unity within our community, for us to come together as one and rise up," Lewis said. "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote to Cesar Chavez, ‘Our separate struggles are really one.'"

Lewis said the coalition will work across government agencies to build stronger communities to combat hate in all its forms.

As for the restoration of the "I Have a Dream" monument at City Park, Councilwoman Lewis said some city council members are looking at ways to contribute funds to such efforts. Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb has already launched a GoFundMe to secure funds for repairs.

Denver leaders address rise in hate crimes after Martin Luther King Jr. monument vandalism

During the news conference, former Denver School Board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson also called on lawmakers and Governor Jared Polis to help fund the restoration.

“This is also a state monument, so it is incumbent upon the legislators in the General Assembly — as they're getting ready to approach budget season — they should be earmarking this restoration project in the state budget as well. This was commissioned by the governor in the 1970s,” Anderson said. “I look forward to our very wealthy governor writing a very well, very sizable check to this donation project.”

Denver Police Department's Bias Motivated Crime Unit is asking anyone with information to contact Denver Metro Crime Stoppers at 720-913-7867.

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