The Killing of Vincent Chin and How it Sparked the Fight for Asian American Rights

Vincent Chin was born in the Chinese province of Guangdong and was raised in Detroit by his adoptive Chinese American parents. He worked in computer graphics in the summer of 1982 when he was 27 years old. His hometown which was once regarded as a center for the production of automobiles was in decline at the time. Many American auto workers were outraged and linked this collapse to Japanese car manufacturers.

On the night of June 19, 1982, Chin went to a strip club in Detroit with friends to celebrate his upcoming marriage. Two white guys, Ronald Ebens, a 43-year-old foreman under the company of Chrysler, and his 22-year-old stepson Michael Nitz, who had recently lost his job at Chrysler, were also present at the club. They presumably believed Chin was Japanese. According to a witness, a dispute occurred between the groups of guys and allegedly began over a stripper. Later, a club dancer recalled Ebens yelling at Chin, "You motherf***ers are the reason we don't have jobs!”

When the confrontations were pushed outside the club, Ebens took a baseball bat from his car and started going after Chin, who ran away. Thereafter, for around 20 minutes, Ebens and Nitz drove about in search of Chin. When they discovered him, Ebens beat him to death with the baseball bat while Nitz held him. Chin suffered and died of his injuries in the hospital four days later.

Two off-duty police officers who had seen the beating arrested and took possession of Ebens at the scene of the crime. Despite the fact that Ebens and Nitz never denied the incident, they insisted it was not racially motivated and denied using racist slurs. Following a plea agreement that reduced the charges from second-degree murder, Wayne County Circuit Judge Charles Kaufman found Ebens and Nitz guilty of manslaughter in a county court. They received a three-year probationary sentence, a $3,000 fine, and a requirement to pay $780 in court expenses. They did not receive any jail time. "These weren't the kind of men you send to jail," Kaufman wrote in response to complaints from American Citizens for Justice. "You don't make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal."

Government representatives, legislators, and a number of prominent legal groups all largely rejected the idea that Vincent Chin's beating should have been subject to civil rights laws at the time. The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild chapters in Detroit did not view Chin's death as a violation of his civil rights.

This undeniably unfair and light sentence infuriated the nation and stoked the Asian American rights movement. It amounted to a "$3,000 license to kill'' Chinese Americans, according to the president of the Detroit Chinese Welfare Council. The case has now come to be recognized as a pivotal turning point for Asian American civil rights activism and a call to action for more robust federal hate crime legislation.

Initially, American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) was the sole organization that supported the idea that Asian Americans should be covered by existing civil rights laws. In the end, the National Lawyers Guild supported its initiatives.

Some Asian Americans have cited Chin's case as evidence that they are deemed "perpetual foreigners" as opposed to "real" Americans who are considered full citizens. Lily Chin, the mother of Vincent Chin, said: "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 entire lives... Something is wrong with this country."

Chin was buried in the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Detroit.

Lily, Chin's mother, reportedly moved back to Guangzhou, China September 1987 in order to avoid being reminded of her son's passing. Late in 2001, she came back to the United States for medical care and passed away on June 9, 2002. In Vincent's honor, Lily Chin created a scholarship that will be managed by American Citizens for Justice before she died.

In remembrance of Chin’s murder, the city of Ferndale, Michigan, placed a milestone marker in 2010 at the intersection of Woodward Avenue and 9 Mile Road.


Marjorie Ann M. Patricio is a Digital Marketing and Brand Development intern of PS Media Enterprise. She is currently a 4th-year Communication Research student at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Sta. Mesa, Manila.


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based in California that advocates
social inclusion of minorities with
Asian heritage though cultural awareness.


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item The Killing of Vincent Chin and How it Sparked the Fight for Asian American Rights
The Killing of Vincent Chin and How it Sparked the Fight for Asian American Rights
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