Murder of Vincent Chin
Vincent Jen Chin (simplified Chinese: 陈果仁; traditional Chinese: 陳果仁; pinyin: Chén Guǒrén; May 18, 1955 – June 23, 1982) was a Chinese American beaten to death in June 1982, in the enclave of Highland Park, Michigan, United States in Greater Detroit. The perpetrators were Chrysler plant superintendent Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz. The murder generated public outrage over the lenient sentencing the two men originally received in a plea bargain, as the attack, which included blows to the head from a baseball bat, possessed many attributes consistent with hate crimes. Many of the layoffs in Detroit's auto industry, including Nitz's in 1979, had been due to the increasing market share of Japanese automakers, leading to allegations that Chinese American Vincent Chin received racially charged comments before his death. The case became a rallying point for the Asian American community, and Ebens and Nitz were put on trial for violating Chin's civil rights. Because the subsequent Federal prosecution was a result of public pressure from a coalition of many Asian ethnic organizations, Vincent Chin's murder is often considered the beginning of a pan-ethnic Asian American movement.
On the night of June 19, 1982, a fight ensued at the Fancy Pants strip club on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park where Chin was having his bachelor party. The group was thrown out and after a heated exchange of words subsequently parted ways. Ebens instigated the incident by declaring, "It's because of you little motherfuckers that we're out of work!" referring to U.S. auto manufacturing jobs being lost to Japan, despite the fact that Chin was not Japanese. 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. Chin was struck at least four times with the bat, including blows to the head. When rushed to Henry Ford Hospital, he was unconscious and died after four days in a coma, on June 23, 1982.
State criminal charges
Ronald Ebens was arrested and taken into custody at the scene of the murder by two off-duty police officers who had witnessed the beating. Ebens and Nitz were convicted in a county court for manslaughter by Wayne County Circuit Judge Charles Kaufman, after a plea bargain brought the charges down from second-degree murder. They served no jail time, 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."
Federal civil rights charges
The verdict angered the Asian American community in the Detroit area and around the country. Journalist Helen Zia and lawyer Liza Cheuk May Chan (traditional Chinese: 陳綽薇; simplified Chinese: 陈绰薇; pinyin: Chén Chuòwēi) led the fight for federal charges, which resulted in the men being accused of two counts of violating Chin's civil rights, under Section 245 of Title 18 of the United States Code. For these charges, it was not enough that Ebens had injured Chin, but that "a substantial motivating factor for the defendant's 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."  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, the prosecution's proving the evidence of uttered racial slurs were not self-sufficient for conviction. 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 may have tried to cut a deal for her testimony.
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 an attorney improperly coached prosecution witnesses.
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 in $30 weekly installments over the following 10 years. 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 laborer and driver. However, the estate of Vincent Chin would not be allowed to garnish social security, disability, or Ebens' pension from Chrysler, nor could the estate place a lien on Ebens' house.
In November 1989, Ebens was forced to reappear 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. However, in 1997, the Chin estate was forced to renew the civil suit, as it was allowed to do every ten years. With accrued interest and other charges, the adjusted total became $4,683,653.89.
Sometime after the murder, the Fancy Pants strip club was permanently closed and subsequently torn down.
The attack was considered by many a hate crime, but pre-dated hate crime laws in the United States. Nevertheless, during a 1998 House of Representatives hearing on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1997, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. suggested that the problem in making people sufficiently aware of the causes for and injustices of the Vincent Chin case was that it was a political "hot potato" that did not get picked up for "political reasons" with respect to the automobile industry.
Chin's case has been cited by some Asian Americans to support the idea that they are seen as not fully citizens or "perpetual foreigners" compared to "real" Americans. Chin's mother, 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."
In September 1987, not wanting to be reminded of her son's tragedy, Vincent Chin's mother, Lily Chin, moved from Oak Park, Michigan, back to Guangzhou, China, where she had grown up. She returned to the United States for medical treatment in late 2001 and died on June 9, 2002. Prior to her death, Lily Chin had established a scholarship in Vincent's memory, to be administered by American Citizens for Justice.
- Who Killed Vincent Chin?. Documentary by Renee Tajima and Christine Choy. Nominated for an 1989 Academy Award for Best Documentary.
- Vincent Who?. 2009 documentary written and produced by Curtis Chin and directed by Tony Lam.
References in popular culture and other
In popular culture
- In The New Twilight Zone episode, "Wong's Lost and Found Emporium", the murder of Vincent Chin is given as the final reason for the main character's loss of compassion.
- Because They Thought He Was is a sculpture by Consuelo Echeverria. It is a life size depiction of the incident made from forged steel auto parts.
- In 1998, a play based on the case, Cherylene Lee's Carry the Tiger to the Mountain, was performed at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. The West End Theatre in Manhattan performed the play in June 2007 as part of the first National Asian American Theater Festival.
- Chin is referenced in the Blue Scholars' song "Morning of America".
- Allusions were made to the incident in the 1989 comedy Collision Course, starring Jay Leno and Pat Morita.
- Chin is referenced in the Dead Milkmen song "Anthropology Days".
- In 1983, Lily Chin appeared on The Phil Donahue Show to bring public attention to the case.[episode needed]
- The 2001 book A Day for Vincent Chin and Me by Jacqueline Turner Banks is about a Japanese American child's efforts to slow down the traffic on a residential street in Kentucky, while his parents form a local protest in support of the Chin case.
- 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).
- William Wei (2002-06-14). "An American Hate Crime: The Murder of Vincent Chin". Tolerance.org. Retrieved 2007-03-14.
- Alethea Yip. "Remembering Vincent Chin". Asian Week. Retrieved 2007-03-14.
- Bedi, Sheila (2003). "The Constructed Identities of Asian and African Americans: A Story of Two Races and the Criminal Justice System. Havard Blackletter Law Journal. 19, 181 – 199
- Weingarten, Paul (July 31, 1983). "Deadly Encounter". Chicago Tribune
- Helen Zia (2000). Asian American Dreams. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0-374-14774-4.
- C.N. Le. "Asian-Nation: Anti-Asian Racism". Asian-Nation. Retrieved 2007-03-14.
- Defendant's Requested Jury Instruction No. 30, U.S. v. Ebens
- Defendant's Requested Jury Instruction No. 18, U.S. v. Ebens
- Defendant's Requested Jury Instruction No. 31, U.S. v. Ebens
- U.S. vs. Ebens transcript, Tuesday, June 19, 1984, p.209-211
- US. v. Ebens, 800 F.2d 1422 (U.S. App. 6th Cir. 1986).
- US. v. Ebens, 654 F. Supp. 144 (E.D. Mich. 1987).
- Finkelstein, Jim (November 30, 1989). "The Man Convicted In Chin Case Pledges To Make Good On Debt". Detroit Free Press. pp. 1B
- Paul Dufault, Temporary Person Representative of the Estate of Vincent Jen Chin, Deceased, vs. Ronald M. Ebens, 97-727321-CZ (Mich 3rd Cir 1997).
- 13300 Woodward, Detroit Cross-Index Directory 1984, 1987
- United States House of Representatives. "Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1997. Hearing". U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved 2007-03-14.
- Frank H. Wu. "Asian Americans and the Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-06-14.
- Iris Chang. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. Viking, 2003. 0-670-03123-2. p. 320>
- "OCA Mourns Death of Lily Chin". Organization of Chinese Americans. Retrieved 2007-03-14.
- "Multicultural Studies: Who Killed Vincent Chin?". Filmakers Library. Archived from the original on 2006-10-20. Retrieved 2007-03-14.
- Vincent Who? entry at Internet Movie Database
- "Race and the Performing Arts". NPR Morning Edition. July 20, 1998.
- "Carry the Tiger to the Mountain". National Asian American Theater Festival. Archived from the original on 2007-08-14. Retrieved 2007-08-17.
- US v. Ebens appellate ruling
- American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) homepage
- American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) blog
- American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) Facebook page
- AsianWeek article
- Vincent Who? (2009) - Official Movie Site
- Vincent Chin page at McMurder.com
- Partial transcripts from Who Killed Vincent Chin?
- Dr Frank H. Wu. Opening Lecture at The 5th Annual Conference in Citizenship Studies: Boundaries, March 27-29, 2008, Wayne State University
- Thirty years since the murder of Vincent Chin