Twenty-five years ago this week, Chinese-American Vincent Chin was murdered. Who is Vincent Chin you ask? Vincent Chin was a draftsman who was bludgeoned to death 25 years ago in Highland Park, Michigan by two men who blamed Japanese carmakers for the demise of the U.S. auto industry (and thought incorrectly, like as if that would make things right, that Chin was Japanese-American instead of Chinese-American). To many in America, Asian-Americans are all the same. Chin was celebrating his bachelor party at a topless bar on June 19, 1982 and was beaten by two displaced autoworkers, Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz. As The Detroit Free press goes on to describe in “Fighting hate, 25 years later“:
The men reportedly mistook Chin for Japanese and blamed him for their unemployment. The men later tracked Chin down at a nearby McDonald’s parking lot, where Ebens admitted to repeatedly bashing Chin’s skull with a baseball bat. Chin was buried the day after he was to be married.
The two later pleaded guilty to manslaughter, sentenced to three years of probation. Rightfully so, there was an outcry of injustice by Asian-American organizations and civil rights groups and the Department of Justice ordered an investigation to see if Chin’s civil rights were violated (you think?). Ebens was found guilty by a federal court jury in 1984 of violating Chin’s civil rights and sentenced to 25 years in prison (Nitz was acquitted). BUT, get this, the decision was overturned two years later after it was proven that a witness was (illegally) coached. There was a retrial and Ebens was cleared of ALL charges!
This was the first modern day hate crime murder of an Asian-American to be nationally covered and considered a seminal event in Asian-American history, uniting disparate groups of Asian-Americans. In 1987, there was an Oscar nominated film released titled “Who Killed Vincent Chin” I think I recall first learning about Vincent Chin in a 60 Minutes piece on the events and feeling outraged and revulsion that those who had killed Chin had gotten away with murder. That makes you wonder – what is the value of an Asian-American’s life in America?
May we all take a moment of silence to remember Vincent Chin twenty five years – may he rest in peace.