Never Forget: Vincent Chin

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

On June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin joined friends for a bachelor party at the Fancy Pants strip club in Highland Park, Mich.

Ronald Ebens, a Chrysler supervisor, happened to be there with his stepson, Michael Nitz, who had been laid off.

Chin and Ebens got into an argument. A witness heard Ebens say, "It's because of you little [expletive] that we're out of work."

Anti-Japanese sentiment was running high in Michigan, where the car industry was reeling.

The argument escalated into a fight, which was broken up. Chin and his friends left. Ebens and Nitz, testimony showed, searched the neighborhood for Chin for nearly half an hour.

When they found him at a McDonald's, Ebens bashed Chin's leg with a Louisville Slugger. Nitz held the injured man, and Ebens smashed his head with the bat. As Chin lost consciousness, he spoke his last words: "It's not fair."

He died four days later.

Ebens and Nitz, originally charged with second-degree murder, were allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter. The judge sentenced them to three years' probation and a $3,000 fine.

"These weren't the kind of men you send to jail," Judge Charles Kaufman said then.

The sentence spurred demonstrations from New York to San Francisco. Asian lawyers and advocates demanded that the federal government intervene - and prosecutors charged the two men with violating Chin's civil rights.

Nitz was acquitted in the 1984 trial. Ebens was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison. However, on appeal he won a new trial.

Because of publicity, the 1987 retrial was moved to Cincinnati. The jury found Ebens not guilty.

The result did not deliver justice, community advocates say, but it spawned other things: Legal processes changed in Michigan and elsewhere. Social-justice groups formed. People got involved - many would go on to lead their communities.

"When Vincent was killed," said Zia, the journalist, "there was really nothing."

Even the American Civil Liberties Union, the most liberal of legal advocates, was unsure if civil-rights law covered Chin, she said. Though he was a U.S. citizen, he had been born in China, then adopted from an orphanage there.

"There was a lot of conversation about, 'It's too bad, it's a tragedy, but . . . this law wasn't created for Chinese immigrants,' " Zia said. "Civil-rights law has changed because of the Vincent Chin case."

The protests that followed Chin's death sparked the creation of the modern Asian American civil-rights movement.

Until then, different ethnicities had fought solo battles, the Chinese against the exclusion laws, the Japanese against World War II internment. But Chin's killing provoked a pan-Asian response toward larger white society.

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