Murder of Vincent Chin

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Murder of Vincent Chin
Vincent Chin.jpg
Photo of Vincent Chin
LocationHighland Park, Michigan, U.S.
DateJune 19, 1982
VictimVincent Chin
MotiveResentment over unemployment in auto industry, which they blamed on Japan imports; anti-Asian sentiment; racism
LitigationEbens ordered to pay $1.5 million to Chin's family, Nitz ordered to pay $50,000

Vincent Jen Chin (Chinese: 陳果仁, Pinyin: Chén Guǒrén; May 18, 1955 – June 23, 1982) was a Chinese-American draftsman who was beaten to death 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 of Japanese descent, and are alleged to have used racial slurs as they attacked him. Ebens and Nitz blamed him for the success of Japan's auto industry, despite the fact that Chin was of Chinese descent.

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.

Chin was taken to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where a nurse told his childhood friend that "he has no chance" and that "his brain was dead." He died of his injuries four days later.[1]

Ebens and Nitz were charged with second-degree murder, but bargained the charges down to manslaughter and pleaded guilty in 1983. They were ordered to pay $3,000 and serve three years' probation, with no jail time. While Ebens and Nitz never denied the brawl, they claimed the fight was not racially motivated and said they did not use racial epithets.[2]

The lenient sentence led to a vocal 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 been viewed as a critical turning point for Asian-American civil rights engagement and a rallying cry for stronger federal hate crime legislation.[3]

Early life[edit]

Chin was born on May 18, 1955, in Guangdong province, China. He was the only child of Bing Hing "David" Chin (simplified Chinese: 陈炳兴; traditional Chinese: 陳炳興; pinyin: Chén Bǐngxīng; a.k.a. C.W. Hing) and Lily Chin (née Yee) (simplified Chinese: 陈余琼芳; traditional Chinese: 陳余瓊芳; pinyin: Chén Yú Qióngfāng).[4][deprecated source] 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.[5][6]

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. 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.[7][5] He was engaged, and the wedding date set for June 28, 1982.[8]


The fight which would lead to the murder of Vincent Chin started at The Fancy Pants Club, 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 Michael Moore for the Detroit Free Press, Ebens told the stripper, "Don't pay any attention to those little fuckers, they wouldn't know a good dancer if they'd seen one."[9]

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,"[10] 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 Chinese, not Japanese. It is disputed whether Ebens uttered other racial slurs.[11]

The fight escalated as Nitz shoved Chin in defense of his stepfather, and Chin countered. At the end of the scuffle, both Ebens and Nitz were sprawled on the floor, with Nitz suffering a cut on his head from a thrown chair. 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 for 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.

When Ebens and Nitz left the club, Chin and his friends were still waiting outside for Siroskey. Chin challenged Ebens and Nitz to continue the fight in the parking lot,[9] at which point Ebens retrieved a baseball bat from Nitz' car and chased Chin and Choi out of the parking lot.

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 Ebens was swinging the bat like he was swinging “for a home run”.[12] When rushed to Henry Ford Hospital, he was unconscious and died after four days in a coma on June 23, 1982.[12] Ebens was arrested for the initial assault.[9] After Vincent Chin's death, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz were charged with second-degree murder.

Legal history[edit]

Inaction by the government and advocacy groups[edit]

At the time, government officials, politicians, and several prominent legal organizations generally dismissed theories of civil rights aspects of the Vincent Chin beating. The local Michigan American Civil Liberties Union and the Detroit chapter of the National Lawyers Guild did not see the connection between civil rights and Chin's death.[13]

At first, only a new group called the American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) 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.[14]

State criminal charges[edit]

Ebens was arrested and taken into custody at the scene of the crime by two off-duty police officers who had witnessed the beating.[15] 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."[5]

Federal civil rights charges[edit]

The verdict angered the Asian American community in the Detroit area and around the country.[16] 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,[17] which resulted in the two murderers being accused of two counts of violating Chin's civil rights, under section 245 of title 18 of the United States Code.[18] 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."[19] 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,[20] the prosecution merely proving the evidence of uttered racial slurs would not, in itself, be sufficient for conviction.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23]

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.[24]

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.[25]

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.[26] However, in 1997,[27] the Chin estate was forced to renew the civil suit, as it was allowed to do every ten years.[25] With accrued interest and other charges, the adjusted total became $4,683,653.89.[27] Ebens sought in 2015 to have the resulting lien against his house vacated.[28]


Vincent Chin's mother, Lily Chin

Chin was interred in Detroit's Forest Lawn Cemetery.[29]

In September 1987, Chin's mother, Lily Chin, moved from Oak Park back to her hometown of Guangzhou, China, in order 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.[30]


The attack was considered a hate crime by many,[31] but it predated the passage of 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, who is an African American, suggested that the problem with making people sufficiently aware of the causes and injustices of Chin's case was that it was a political "hot potato" that did not get picked up for "political reasons", with respect to the automobile industry.[32]

Chin's case has been cited by some Asian Americans in order to support the idea that they are considered "perpetual foreigners" in contrast to "real" Americans who are considered full citizens.[31][16][33] 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."[34]

In 2010 the city of Ferndale, Michigan erected a legal milestone marker at Woodward and 9-mile which commemorates the murder of Chin in order to ensure that his story is not forgotten.[35]

In media[edit]


In popular culture[edit]


  • In 1983, Lily Chin appeared on The Phil Donahue Show to bring public attention to the case.[49][50]
  • 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 form a local protest in support of the Chin case.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Warikoo, Niraj. "Vincent Chin murder 35 years later: History repeating itself?". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
  2. ^ "Estate of Vincent Chin seeks millions from his killer". Detroit News. Retrieved November 14, 2018.
  3. ^ "35 Years After Vincent Chin's Murder, How Has America Changed?". Asia Society. Retrieved November 14, 2018.
  4. ^ "透视美国华人女性的百年记忆". Epoch Times (in Chinese). June 3, 2016. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "Slaying ends couple's dream". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  9. ^ a b c Moore, Michael (August 30, 1987). "The Man Who Killed Vincent Chin". Detroit Free Press. Sunday magazine 12–17, 20.
  10. ^ Article "Remembering Vincent Chin" Archived 2007-03-18 at the Wayback Machine on AsianWeek
  11. ^ 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).
  12. ^ a b Hung, Louise. "35 years after Vincent Chin's brutal murder, nothing has changed". Global Comment. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  13. ^ Detroit: Race Riots, Racial Conflicts, and Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide.
  14. ^ Wu, Jean Yu-Wen Shen; Chen, Thomas (March 8, 2010). Asian American Studies Now: A Critical Reader. ISBN 978-0-8135-4933-0.
  15. ^ Weingarten, Paul (July 31, 1983). "Deadly Encounter". Chicago Tribune.
  16. ^ a b C.N. Le. "Asian-Nation: Anti-Asian Racism". Asian-Nation. Retrieved March 14, 2007.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "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.
  19. ^ Defendant's Requested Jury Instruction No. 30, U.S. v. Ebens.
  20. ^ Defendant's Requested Jury Instruction No. 18, U.S. v. Ebens.
  21. ^ Defendant's Requested Jury Instruction No. 31, U.S. v. Ebens.
  22. ^ U.S. vs. Ebens transcript, Tuesday, June 19, 1984, pp. 209–211.
  23. ^ US. v. Ebens, 800 F.2d 1422 (U.S. App. 6th Cir. 1986).
  24. ^ US. v. Ebens, 654 F. Supp. 144 (E.D. Mich. 1987).
  25. ^ 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).
  26. ^ Finkelstein, Jim (November 30, 1989). "The Man Convicted In Chin Case Pledges To Make Good On Debt". Detroit Free Press. p. 1B.
  27. ^ 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).
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ "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.
  30. ^ "OCA Mourns Death of Lily Chin". Organization of Chinese Americans. Archived from the original on August 3, 2017. Retrieved March 14, 2007.
  31. ^ a b Wei, William (June 14, 2002). "An American Hate Crime: The Murder of Vincent Chin". Southern Poverty Law Center. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved March 14, 2007.
  32. ^ United States House of Representatives. "Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1997. Hearing". U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved March 14, 2007.
  33. ^ Frank H. Wu. "Asian Americans and the Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome". Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved June 14, 2007.
  34. ^ Iris Chang. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. Viking, 2003. 0-670-03123-2. p. 320.
  35. ^ "Plaque commemorating Vincent Chin case erected in Ferndale > Washtenaw County Legal News". Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  36. ^ "Multicultural Studies: Who Killed Vincent Chin?". Filmakers Library. Archived from the original on October 20, 2006. Retrieved March 14, 2007.
  37. ^ "Vincent Who? (2009)". IMDb. April 4, 2009. Retrieved September 3, 2015.
  38. ^ Video on YouTube
  39. ^ Zia, p. 81.
  40. ^ "Race and the Performing Arts". NPR Morning Edition. July 20, 1998.
  41. ^ "Carry the Tiger to the Mountain". National Asian American Theater Festival. Archived from the original on August 14, 2007. Retrieved August 17, 2007.
  42. ^ Patrin, Nate (June 5, 2007). "Blue Scholars: Bayani Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  43. ^ Gill, Sean (July 11, 2014). "Film Review: COLLISION COURSE (1989, Lewis Teague)". Junta Juleil's Culture Shock. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  44. ^ "The Dead Milkmen – Anthropology Days". Genius. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  45. ^ Video on YouTube
  46. ^ UC Hastings College of the Law, The Killing of Vincent Chin, January 14, 2014.
  47. ^ 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.
  48. ^ Lewis, Michelle (April 11, 2017). "WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE A LIST OF FURTHER POSSIBILITIES: A review of Chen Chen's debut poetry…". Medium. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  49. ^ Zia, p. 73.
  50. ^ "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.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]