Chin was violently beaten to death in Michigan in June 1982
This month marks an important event in Asian America. 35 years ago, on June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin was brutally beaten to death just two days before his wedding day. Hours earlier, Chin had got into a fight with two white men in the Highland Park strip club where his bachelor party was being held; the parties in the fight were subsequently thrown out. The two white men—Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz—would later track Chin to a nearby McDonalds, where Nitz would pin Chin down while Ebens repeatedly clubbed Chin’s head open with a baseball bat.
Ebens and Nitz’s motives?
“It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work,” Ebens had said earlier to Chin when he initiated the confrontation. Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz were members of Detriot’s declining auto industry, which took an even steeper decline in the early 1980s due to the success of Japan’s own auto industry. So, the “motherfuckers” Ebens and Nitz associated Chin with were presumably members of the Japanese auto industry.
Vincent Chin was Chinese American. He would from his injuries in a coma four days later June 24, 1982.
Initially, Chin’s death was not seen as a civil rights case; for example, even a local Michigan ACLU was hesitant to support the notion that Chin’s death had been potentially racially motivated. Ebens and Nitz would be convicted in a county court for manslaughter and after a plea bargain, the charges were significantly brought down even more: Ebens and Nitz served no jail time, fined just $3,000, and ordered to pay $780 in court costs.
But the verdict angered the Asian American community writ large. Two Asian American women, journalist Helen Zia and lawyer Liza Chan, led Lily Chin (Vincent Chin’s heartbroken mother) and the rest of the Asian American community for federal charges against Ebens and Nitz. They rightfully claimed Chin’s death violated Chin’s Civil Rights: “a substantial motivating factor for the defendant’s actions [Ebens] was Mr. Chin’s race, color, or national origin, and because Mr. Chin had been enjoying a place of entertainment which serves the public.”
Finally, in 1984, a civil rights case found Ebens guilty and sentenced him to 25 years in prison; Nitz was acquitted on his respective counts. But an appeal had Ebens’ conviction overturned in 1986, when the federal appeals court found the attorney tampered with the witnesses of the prosecution.
A civil suit for the murder of Vincent Chin was settled on March 23, 1987. Michael Nitz was ordered to pay $50,000 and Ronald Ebens was ordered to pay $1.5 million; these numbers had been derived from the loss of income from Vincent Chin’s engineering position and Lily Chin’s loss of her son’s services.
Flash-forward to today. We are still an ever imposing threat to white America and still even considered “perpetually foreign” and “un-American”; the injustices we face are rarely highlighted upon and usually ignored.
Donald Trump’s casual Anti-Chinese rhetoric has spiked rise of Anti-Asian hate crimes (courtesy of numbers from the recently launched website Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) ). The website is StandAgainstHatred.org.
Asian Americans remain ever marginalized and excluded from the entertainment industry. The practice of yellow face (white actors playing Asian roles) still is tremendously popular, even in multi-million dollar blockbusters like Scarlet Johansson playing a role for an Asian woman in Ghost in the Shell.
Asian-Americans teens are the most likely demographic to commit suicide; their numbers have risen in the past few years (numbers courtesy from the American Psychological Association).
Millions of Asian-Americans remain in poverty, but they are erased—masked under the guise of the “Model Minority Myth which maintains the belief that all Asian Americans are doing fine and their racial stereotypes (submissive, nerdy etc.) are tolerable.
So much more.
And how are Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz doing today?
Well, Ebens and Nitz both essentially got away free. Ebens, 30 years later, in a 2012 interview with Emil Guillermo, apologized for the crime. However, he has not paid nearly the amount of the debt owed to the Chin family from the civil suit and has continuously tried in the courts to remove himself from his obligations. He moved to Nevada to protect his assets from the civil suit since Nevada has a Homestead exemption which protects the lien on Eben’s home.
Lily Chin has since died, knowing that justice will never be served for her son.
Asian America…your quick notice.