Murder of Vincent Chin

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Murder of Vincent Chin
Vincent Chin.jpg
Photo of Vincent Chin
Date June 19, 1982
Location Highland Park, Michigan, U.S.
Deaths Vincent Chin
Accused Ronald Ebens
Michael Nitz
Litigation Ebens ordered to pay $1.5 million to Chin's family, Nitz ordered to pay $50,000

Vincent Jen Chin[1] (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Chén Guǒrén; May 18, 1955 – June 23, 1982) was a Chinese American man who was severely beaten in the Detroit suburb of Highland Park, Michigan, in June 1982. The beating led to his death four days later.

The perpetrators were Chrysler plant superintendent Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz. The lenient sentencing of these two men in a plea bargain generated public outrage over the murder attack, which included blows to the head from a baseball bat, and possessed 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, particularly due to Chrysler's increased sales of captively-imported Mitsubishi models rebadged and sold under the Dodge and now-defunct Plymouth brands, leading to allegations that Vincent Chin received racially charged comments attributing to the layoffs while being beaten.[2]

Ebens and Nitz initially faced a charge of second-degree murder, but were convicted in a county court for manslaughter. They were both sentenced to three years of probation.

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. Ebens was convicted of violating Chin's civil rights and was sentenced to 25 years of prison, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. 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.[3]

Early life[edit]

Born in Guangdong province, China, in 1955, Vincent Chin was the only child of Bing Hing Chin (simplified Chinese: 陈炳兴; traditional Chinese: 陳炳興; pinyin: Chén Bǐngxīng; a.k.a. C.W. Hing) and Lily Chin (simplified Chinese: 陈余琼芳; traditional Chinese: 陳余瓊芳; pinyin: Chén Yú Qióngfāng). 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, the couple adopted Vincent from a Chinese orphanage in 1961.

Throughout most of the 1960s, Vincent grew up along Woodward Avenue in Highland Park. In 1971, after the elderly Hing was mugged, the family moved out to Oak Park, Michigan. Vincent graduated from Oak Park High School in 1973, going on to study at Control Data Institute. At the time of his death, he was employed as an industrial draftsman at Efficient Engineering, an automotive supplier, as well as working weekends as a waiter at the former Golden Star restaurant in Ferndale, Michigan. He was engaged, and the wedding date set for June 27, 1982.[4]


On the night of June 19, 1982, a fight occurred 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 allegedly 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 having been lost to Japan, particularly referring to sales of Chrysler's rebadged Mitsubishis as captive imports, having mistaken the Chinese-American Chin as being Japanese.[2]

Chin taunted Ebens to keep fighting after they were all thrown out.[5] Ebens and Nitz searched the neighborhood for 20 to 30 minutes and even paid another man $20 to help look for Chin,[6] before finding him at a McDonald's restaurant. Chin tried to escape, but was held by Nitz in a bear hug while Ebens repeatedly bludgeoned Chin with a baseball bat until Chin's head cracked open. A policeman who witnessed the beating said Ebens was swinging the bat like he was swinging “for a home run”.[7] When rushed to Henry Ford Hospital, he was unconscious and died after four days in a coma on June 23, 1982.[7]

Legal history[edit]

Inaction by government and advocacy groups[edit]

At the time, government officials, politicians, and several prominent law organizations generally dismissed theories of civil rights aspects of the Vincent Chin beating. The local Michigan ACLU and Detroit chapter of the National Lawyers Guild did not see the connection between civil rights and Chin's death.[8]

At first, only a new group called the American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) lent their support for the theory that existing Civil Rights Laws should be applied to Asian Americans. Eventually the national body of the National Lawyers Guild endorsed their efforts.[9]

State criminal charges[edit]

Ronald Ebens was arrested and taken into custody at the scene of the crime by two off-duty police officers who had witnessed the beating.[10] 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."[4]

Federal civil rights charges[edit]

The verdict angered the Asian American community in the Detroit area and around the country.[11] 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,[12] which resulted in the men's 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."[13] 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,[14] the prosecution's proving the evidence of uttered racial slurs was not self-sufficient for conviction.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18]

Civil suits[edit]

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 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.[1]

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.[19] However, in 1997,[20] the Chin estate was forced to renew the civil suit, as it was allowed to do every ten years.[1] With accrued interest and other charges, the adjusted total became $4,683,653.89.[20] Ebens sought in 2015 to have the resulting lien against his house vacated.[21]


Vincent Chin's mother, Lily Chin

Chin was interred at Detroit's Forest Lawn Cemetery.[22]

In September 1987, Chin's mother, Lily Chin, moved from Oak Park back to her hometown of Guangzhou, China, to avoid being reminded of the tragedy. 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.[23]


The attack was considered by many a hate crime,[2] but predated 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.[24]

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.[2][11][25] 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."[26]

In media[edit]


In popular culture[edit]


  • 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.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c 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).
  2. ^ a b c d Wei, William (2002-06-14). "An American Hate Crime: The Murder of Vincent Chin". Southern Poverty Law Center. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  3. ^ " Remembering Vincent Chin". Retrieved 2016-05-03. 
  4. ^ a b c Helen Zia (2000). Asian American Dreams. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. ISBN 0-374-14774-4. 
  5. ^ "Ronald Ebens, the Man Who Killed Vincent Chin, Apologizes 30 Years Later". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ a b Hung, Louise. "35 years after Vincent Chin's brutal murder, nothing has changed". Global Comment. Retrieved 9 August 2017. 
  8. ^ Detroit: Race Riots, Racial Conflicts, and Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide
  9. ^
  10. ^ Weingarten, Paul (July 31, 1983). "Deadly Encounter". Chicago Tribune. 
  11. ^ a b C.N. Le. "Asian-Nation: Anti-Asian Racism". Asian-Nation. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  12. ^ Ni, Ching-Ching (July 25, 2010). "Irvin R. Lai dies at 83; Chinese American community leader in Los Angeles". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 January 2016. 
  13. ^ Defendant's Requested Jury Instruction No. 30, U.S. v. Ebens
  14. ^ Defendant's Requested Jury Instruction No. 18, U.S. v. Ebens
  15. ^ Defendant's Requested Jury Instruction No. 31, U.S. v. Ebens
  16. ^ U.S. vs. Ebens transcript, Tuesday, June 19, 1984, p.209-211
  17. ^ US. v. Ebens, 800 F.2d 1422 (U.S. App. 6th Cir. 1986).
  18. ^ US. v. Ebens, 654 F. Supp. 144 (E.D. Mich. 1987).
  19. ^ Finkelstein, Jim (November 30, 1989). "The Man Convicted In Chin Case Pledges To Make Good On Debt". Detroit Free Press. pp. 1B. 
  20. ^ 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).
  21. ^ 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 7 July 2016. 
  22. ^ "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. 
  23. ^ "OCA Mourns Death of Lily Chin". Organization of Chinese Americans. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  24. ^ United States House of Representatives. "Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1997. Hearing". U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  25. ^ Frank H. Wu. "Asian Americans and the Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-06-14. 
  26. ^ Iris Chang. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. Viking, 2003. 0-670-03123-2. p. 320>
  27. ^ "Multicultural Studies: Who Killed Vincent Chin?". Filmakers Library. Archived from the original on 2006-10-20. Retrieved 2007-03-14. 
  28. ^ "Vincent Who? (2009)". IMDb. 4 April 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2015. 
  29. ^ Video on YouTube
  30. ^ "Race and the Performing Arts". NPR Morning Edition. July 20, 1998. 
  31. ^ "Carry the Tiger to the Mountain". National Asian American Theater Festival. Archived from the original on 2007-08-14. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  32. ^ Video on YouTube
  33. ^ UC Hastings College of the Law, The Killing of Vincent Chin,14 January 2014, available at

Further reading[edit]

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