Killing of Vincent Chin

Vincent Jen Chin (Chinese: 陳果仁; May 18, 1955 – June 23, 1982) was a Chinese American draftsman who was killed in a racially motivated assault[2][3] by two white men, Chrysler plant supervisor Ronald Ebens and his stepson, laid-off autoworker Michael Nitz. Ebens and Nitz assailed Chin following a brawl that took place at a strip club in Highland Park, Michigan, where Chin had been celebrating his bachelor party with friends in advance of his upcoming wedding. They apparently assumed Chin was Japanese and witnesses described them using racial slurs as they attacked him, ultimately beating him to death. Ebens and Nitz blamed Chin for the success of Japan's auto industry.

Killing of Vincent Chin
Vincent Chin.jpg
Vincent Chin
LocationHighland Park, Michigan, U.S.
DateJune 19, 1982; 40 years ago (1982-06-19)
Attack type
Homicide, manslaughter[1]
VictimVincent Jen Chin
Perpetrators
VerdictState charges:
Pleaded guilty to manslaughter
Both perpetrators sentenced to three years of probation and $3,780 fine
Federal trial verdicts:
Ebens guilty of one count of violation of civil rights, but verdict overturned; on retrial: Ebens not guilty of violation of civil rights
Nitz not guilty of violation of civil rights
ChargesState charges:
Manslaughter
Second-degree murder (dropped after plea deal)
Federal charges:
Violation of civil rights (2 counts each) (found not guilty)
LitigationEbens ordered to pay $1.5 million to Chin's family, Nitz ordered to pay $50,000
Vincent Jen Chin
Traditional Chinese陳果仁
Simplified Chinese陈果仁

Although accounts vary, the men got into a physical altercation and were removed from the club as a result. Ebens and Nitz eventually found Chin in front of a Highland Park McDonald’s. There, Nitz held Chin down while Ebens repeatedly bashed him in the head with a baseball bat. Chin was taken to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where he died of his injuries four days later.[4]

At the time, Metro Detroit was a powder keg of racial animosity toward Asian Americans, specifically as the penetration of Japanese automotive imports in the U.S. domestic market hastened the decline of Detroit's Big Three. Resentful workers laid the blame for recent layoffs on Japanese competition.

Ebens and Nitz pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 1983, in a plea bargain from an initial charge of second-degree murder. While Ebens and Nitz never denied the brawl, they claimed the fight was not racially motivated and said they did not use racial epithets.[5]

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Charles Kaufman sentenced Ebens and Nitz to only three years' probation and a $3,000 fine plus costs but with no jail time. Judge Kaufman's rationale for his leniency was that it was Chin who initiated the physical altercation, Ebens and Nitz had no prior convictions, Chin survived for four days on life support, and the prosecutor failed to argue for a more severe sentence. Judge Kaufman further states that Ebens and Nitz "weren't the kind of men you send to jail [...] You don't make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal."[6]

The lenient sentence led to an outcry from Asian Americans. The president of the Detroit Chinese Welfare Council said it amounted to a "$3,000 license to kill" Chinese Americans. As a result, the case has since been viewed as a critical turning point for Asian American civil rights engagement and a rallying cry for stronger federal hate crime legislation.[7]

Early lifeEdit

Chin was born on May 18, 1955, in Guangdong province, Mainland China. He was the only child of Bing Hing "David" Chin (a.k.a. C.W. Hing) and Lily Chin (née Yee).[8] His father earned the right to bring a Chinese bride into the United States through his service in World War II. After Lily suffered a miscarriage in 1949 and was unable to have children, the couple adopted Vincent from a Chinese orphanage in 1961.[9][10]

Throughout most of the 1960s, Chin grew up in Highland Park. In 1971, after the elderly Hing was mugged, the family moved to Oak Park, Michigan. Vincent Chin graduated from Oak Park High School in 1973, going on to study at Control Data Institute, and Lawrence Tech.[11][9] At the time of his death, he was employed as an industrial draftsman at Efficient Engineering, an automotive supplier, and working weekends as a waiter at the former Golden Star restaurant in Ferndale, Michigan.[12][9] He was engaged, and the wedding date set for June 28, 1982.[13]

HomicideEdit

The fight which would lead to the killing of Vincent Chin started at The Fancy Pants Club on June 19, 1982, when Chin took umbrage at a remark that Ebens made to a stripper who had just finished dancing at Chin's table (Chin was having a bachelor party, as he was to be married eight days later). According to an interview by American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore for the Detroit Free Press, after Chin gave the dancer a generous gratuity, Ebens shouted, "Hey, you little motherfuckers!" and told the stripper, "Don't pay any attention to those little fuckers, they wouldn't know a good dancer if they'd seen one."[14]

Ebens claimed that Chin walked over to Ebens and Michael Nitz and threw a punch at Ebens' jaw without provocation, although witnesses at the ensuing trial testified that Ebens also got up and said, "It's because of you little motherfuckers that we're out of work,"[15] referring to the Japanese auto industry, particularly Chrysler's increased sales of captively-imported Mitsubishi models rebadged and sold under the Dodge and now-defunct Plymouth brands, and Nitz's layoff from Chrysler in 1979, despite the fact that Chin was of Chinese descent, not Japanese. It is disputed whether Ebens uttered other racial slurs.[16]

The fight escalated as Nitz shoved Chin in defense of his stepfather, and Chin countered. Nitz suffered a cut on his head from a chair that Ebens had intended to use to strike Chin.[14] Chin and his friends left the room, while a bouncer led Ebens and Nitz to the restroom to clean up the wound. While they were there, Robert Siroskey, one of Chin's friends, came back inside to use the restroom. He apologized to the group, stating that Chin had a few drinks because of his bachelor's party. Ebens and Nitz had also been drinking that night, although not at the club, which did not serve alcohol. Jimmy Choi also reentered the club to look for Siroskey.[citation needed]

When Ebens and Nitz left the club, they encountered Chin and his friends who were waiting outside for Siroskey. Chin called Ebens a "chicken shit", at which point Nitz retrieved a baseball bat from his car and Chin and his friends ran down the street.[14]

Ebens and Nitz searched the neighborhood for 20 to 30 minutes and even paid another man 20 dollars to help look for Chin, before finding him at a McDonald's restaurant. Chin tried to escape but was held by Nitz while Ebens repeatedly bludgeoned Chin with a baseball bat until Chin's head cracked open. A policeman who witnessed the beating said that Ebens was swinging the bat like he was swinging “for a home run.”[17] He was immediately rushed to Henry Ford Hospital. Chin was unconscious when he arrived; he never regained consciousness and died on June 23, 1982, after being in a coma for four days.[17] Ebens was arrested for the initial assault.[14] After Chin's death, Ebens and Nitz were charged with second-degree murder.

Legal historyEdit

Inaction by the government and advocacy groupsEdit

At the time, government officials, politicians, and several prominent legal organizations generally dismissed the theory that civil rights laws should be applied to the beating of Vincent Chin. The Detroit chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild did not consider Chin's killing a violation of his civil rights.[18]

At first, a new group named itself American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) was the only group that lent its support to the theory that existing civil rights laws should be applied to Asian Americans. Eventually, the national body of the National Lawyers Guild endorsed its efforts.[19]

State criminal chargesEdit

Ebens was arrested and taken into custody at the scene of the crime by two off-duty police officers who had witnessed the beating.[20] Ebens and Nitz were convicted in a county court by Wayne County Circuit Judge Charles Kaufman of manslaughter, after a plea bargain brought the charges down from second-degree murder. They served no jail time and were given three years' probation, fined $3,000, and ordered to pay $780 in court costs. In a response letter to protests from American Citizens for Justice, Kaufman said, "These weren't the kind of men you send to jail... You don't make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal."[9]

Federal civil rights chargesEdit

The verdict angered the Asian American communities in the Detroit area and around the country.[21] Journalist Helen Zia and lawyer Liza Chan (traditional Chinese: 陳綽薇; simplified Chinese: 陈绰薇; pinyin: Chén Chuòwēi) led the fight for federal charges,[22] which resulted in the two killers being accused of two counts of violating Chin's civil rights, under section 245 of title 18 of the United States Code.[23] For these charges, it was not enough that Ebens had murdered Chin, but that "a substantial motivating factor for the defendants' actions was Mr. Chin's race, color, or national origin, and because Mr. Chin had been enjoying a place of entertainment which serves the public."[24] Because of possible mitigating factors that could lead to reasonable doubt, such as intoxication leading to the defendant's inability to form the specific intent,[25] the prosecution merely proving the evidence of uttered racial slurs would not, in itself, be sufficient for conviction.[26] In addition, the defense found Racine Colwell, the witness who overheard the "It's because of you motherfuckers we're out of work" remark, to have received some clemency on a jail sentence for a prostitution charge, which suggested that the government might have tried to cut a deal for her testimony.[27]

The 1984 federal civil rights case against the men found Ebens guilty of the second count and sentenced him to 25 years in prison; Nitz was acquitted of both counts. After an appeal, Ebens' conviction was overturned in 1986—a federal appeals court found that an attorney had improperly coached prosecution witnesses.[28]

After a retrial that was moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, due to the publicity the case had received in Detroit, a jury cleared Ebens of all charges in 1987.[29]

Civil suitsEdit

A civil suit for the unlawful death of Vincent Chin was settled out of court on March 23, 1987. Michael Nitz was ordered to pay $50,000. Ronald Ebens was ordered to pay $1.5 million, at $200/month for the first two years and 25% of his income or $200/month thereafter, whichever was greater. This represented the projected loss of income from Vincent Chin's engineering position, as well as Lily Chin's loss of Vincent's services as a laborer and driver. However, Chin's estate would not be allowed to garnish social security, disability, or Ebens' pension from Chrysler, nor could the estate place a lien on Ebens' house.[30]

In November 1989, Ebens reappeared in court for a creditor's hearing, where he detailed his finances and reportedly pledged to make good on his debt to the Chin estate.[31] However, in 1997,[32] the Chin estate was forced to renew the civil suit, as it was allowed to do every ten years.[30] With accrued interest and other charges, the adjusted total became $4,683,653.89.[32] Ebens sought in 2015 to have the resulting lien against his house vacated.[33]

AftermathEdit

 
Chin's mother, Lily

Chin was interred in Detroit's Forest Lawn Cemetery.[34]

In September 1987, Chin's mother, Lily, moved from Oak Park back to her hometown of Guangzhou, China, reportedly to avoid being reminded of her son's death. She returned to the United States for medical treatment in late 2001 and died on June 9, 2002. Prior to her death, Lily Chin established a scholarship in Vincent's memory, to be administered by American Citizens for Justice.[35]

LegacyEdit

The attack was considered a hate crime by many,[36] but it predated the passage of hate crime laws in the United States. The ACJ quickly gained the support of diverse ethnic and religious groups, advocacy organizations, and politicians like the Detroit City Council president and Congressman John Conyers.[37]: 133 (16) 

After Chin's murder was raised during a 1998 House of Representatives hearing on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1997, Conyers mistook Chin to be Japanese-American and argued that Chin's case was not of racial injustice but rather political, about the automobile industry.[38][non-primary source needed] Conyers later introduced multiple hate crimes bills from 1999 to 2009.

Chin's case has been cited by some Asian Americans in support of the idea that they are considered "perpetual foreigners" in contrast to "real" Americans who are considered full citizens.[36][21][39] Lily Chin stated: "What kind of law is this? What kind of justice? This happened because my son is Chinese. If two Chinese killed a white person, they must go to jail, maybe for their whole lives... Something is wrong with this country."[40]

In 2010, the city of Ferndale, Michigan, erected a legal milestone marker at the intersection of Woodward Avenue and 9 Mile Road in memorial of the killing of Chin.[41]

In the mediaEdit

DocumentariesEdit

In popular cultureEdit

OtherEdit

  • In 1983, Lily Chin appeared on The Phil Donahue Show in order to bring public attention to the case.[52][53]
  • The 2001 book A Day for Vincent Chin and Me by Jacqueline Turner Banks (ISBN 978-0-618-54879-8) is about a Japanese-American child's efforts to slow down the traffic on a residential street in Kentucky, while his parents mount a local protest in support of the Chin case.
  • In 2018, Annie Tan, Chin's first cousin once removed, told the story of her discovery of her connection with Chin as played as a part of The Moth Radio Hour.[54]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Vincent Chin is murdered - HISTORY".
  2. ^ Civil rights issues facing Asian Americans in the 1990s. Washington, D.C.: United States Commission on Civil Rights; U.S. Government Printing Office. February 1992. p. 25. OCLC 1084220292.
  3. ^ Niiya, Brian (ed.); Japanese American National Museum (1993). Japanese American History: An A-to-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present. New York: Facts on File. p. 117. ISBN 0-8160-2680-7.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  4. ^ Warikoo, Niraj. "Vincent Chin murder 35 years later: History repeating itself?". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
  5. ^ "Estate of Vincent Chin seeks millions from his killer". Detroit News. Retrieved November 14, 2018.
  6. ^ "40 Years After Vincent Chin". The National Law Review. Retrieved June 20, 2022.
  7. ^ "35 Years After Vincent Chin's Murder, How Has America Changed?". Asia Society. Retrieved November 14, 2018.
  8. ^ Wu, Frank H. (June 29, 2012). "難忘陳果仁". The New York Times (in Chinese (China)). Retrieved April 9, 2021.
  9. ^ a b c d Zia, Helen (May 18, 2001). Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 58–64. ISBN 978-0-374-52736-5. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  10. ^ Lee, Jonathan H. X. (November 12, 2015). Chinese Americans: The History and Culture of a People: The History and Culture of a People. ABC-CLIO. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-61069-550-3. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  11. ^ Aguilar, Louis (June 27, 2017). "Estate of Vincent Chin seeks millions from his killer". the Detroit News. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  12. ^ Darden, Joe T.; Thomas, Richard W. (March 1, 2013). Detroit: Race Riots, Racial Conflicts, and Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide. MSU Press. p. 251. ISBN 978-1-60917-352-4. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  13. ^ "Slaying ends couple's dream". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  14. ^ a b c d Moore, Michael (August 30, 1987). "The Man Who Killed Vincent Chin". Detroit Free Press. Sunday magazine 12–17, 20. ISSN 1055-2758.
  15. ^ Article "Remembering Vincent Chin" Archived March 18, 2007, at the Wayback Machine on AsianWeek
  16. ^ Henry Yee and the Estate of Vincent Chin (deceased) vs. Ronald Ebens, Michael Nitz, and Fancy Pants lounge, 83-309788 CZ (Mich 3rd Cir 1983).
  17. ^ a b Hung, Louise (June 28, 2017). "35 years after Vincent Chin's brutal murder, nothing has changed". Global Comment. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  18. ^ Detroit: Race Riots, Racial Conflicts, and Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide.
  19. ^ Wu, Jean Yu-Wen Shen; Chen, Thomas (March 8, 2010). Asian American Studies Now: A Critical Reader. ISBN 978-0-8135-4933-0.
  20. ^ Weingarten, Paul (July 31, 1983). "Deadly Encounter". Chicago Tribune.
  21. ^ a b C.N. Le. "Asian-Nation: Anti-Asian Racism". Asian-Nation. Retrieved March 14, 2007.
  22. ^ Ni, Ching-Ching (July 25, 2010). "Irvin R. Lai dies at 83; Chinese American community leader in Los Angeles". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 17, 2016.
  23. ^ "Fourteenth Amendment. State Action. Seventh Circuit Recognizes a Broader State Duty to Act. Ross v. United States, 910 F.2d 1422 (7th Cir. 1990)". Harvard Law Review. 104 (5): 1147–1153. March 1991. doi:10.2307/1341678. ISSN 0017-811X. JSTOR 1341678.
  24. ^ Defendant's Requested Jury Instruction No. 30, U.S. v. Ebens.
  25. ^ Defendant's Requested Jury Instruction No. 18, U.S. v. Ebens.
  26. ^ Defendant's Requested Jury Instruction No. 31, U.S. v. Ebens.
  27. ^ U.S. vs. Ebens transcript, Tuesday, June 19, 1984, pp. 209–211.
  28. ^ US. v. Ebens, 800 F.2d 1422 (U.S. App. 6th Cir. 1986).
  29. ^ US. v. Ebens, 654 F. Supp. 144 (E.D. Mich. 1987).
  30. ^ a b Henry Yee and the Estate of Vincent Chin (deceased) vs. Ronald Ebens, Michael Nitz, and Fancy Pants lounge, 83-309788 CZ (Mich 3rd Cir 1983).
  31. ^ Finkelstein, Jim (November 30, 1989). "The Man Convicted In Chin Case Pledges To Make Good On Debt". Detroit Free Press. p. 1B.
  32. ^ a b Paul Dufault, Temporary Person Representative of the Estate of Vincent Jen Chin, Deceased, vs. Ronald M. Ebens, 97-727321-CZ (Mich 3rd Cir 1997).
  33. ^ Guillermo, Emil; Wang, Frances Kai-Hwa (December 11, 2015). "Man Charged With Vincent Chin's Death Seeks Lien Removed, Still Owes Millions". NBC News. Retrieved July 7, 2016.
  34. ^ "30 years later, Vincent Chin's family awaits justice in fatal beating". The Detroit News. June 21, 2012. Archived from the original on February 2, 2014.
  35. ^ "OCA Mourns Death of Lily Chin". Organization of Chinese Americans. Archived from the original on August 3, 2017. Retrieved March 14, 2007.
  36. ^ a b Wei, William (June 14, 2002). "An American Hate Crime: The Murder of Vincent Chin". Tolerance.org. Southern Poverty Law Center. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007.
  37. ^ Yoo, Paula (2021). "16". "From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial that Galvanized the Asian American Movement". Norton Young Readers. p. 133. ISBN 9781324002888.
  38. ^ United States House of Representatives (July 22, 1998). "Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1997: Hearing Before the Committee on the Judiciary". U.S. Government Printing Office. Serial No. 131. Retrieved March 14, 2007.
  39. ^ Wu, Frank H. (2002). "Asian Americans and the Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome". Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White. Basic Books. ISBN 0-4650-0639-6.
  40. ^ Chang, Iris (2003). The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. Viking. p. 320. ISBN 0-670-03123-2.
  41. ^ Minnis, John (January 6, 2011). "Plaque commemorating Vincent Chin case erected in Ferndale". Legalnews.com. Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  42. ^ "Multicultural Studies: Who Killed Vincent Chin?". Filmakers Library. Archived from the original on October 20, 2006. Retrieved March 14, 2007.
  43. ^ Video on YouTube
  44. ^ Zia, p. 81.
  45. ^ "Race and the Performing Arts". NPR Morning Edition. July 20, 1998.
  46. ^ "Carry the Tiger to the Mountain". National Asian American Theater Festival. Archived from the original on August 14, 2007. Retrieved August 17, 2007.
  47. ^ Patrin, Nate (June 5, 2007). "Blue Scholars: Bayani Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  48. ^ "The Dead Milkmen – Anthropology Days". Genius. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  49. ^ Video on YouTube
  50. ^ UC Hastings College of the Law, The Killing of Vincent Chin, January 14, 2014.
  51. ^ Thien, Madeleine (September 2, 2016). "The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies review – what does it mean to be Chinese-American?". The Guardian. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
  52. ^ Zia, p. 73.
  53. ^ "American Citizens for Justice Records: 1983–2004". Bentley Historical Library. University of Michigan. Retrieved June 21, 2018. The Vincent Chin Case and Aftermath series (0.5 linear feet, 1983–1989) contains files relating to the Vincent Chin incident and legal case, including clippings and articles, ACJ's involvement with the case (court watch documents, petitions, remembrance services), as well as public reaction, including response letters from viewers of a Phil Donahue show that covered the Chin case in 1983.
  54. ^ "The Moth | Stories | Remembering Vincent". The Moth. Retrieved June 3, 2022.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit