U.S. marks anniversary of Chin’s death

Chris Cockel,The China Post, Washington D.C.

In a series of events across the United States this week, Asian-Americans will commemorate the 1982 killing of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, whom on the night of his bachelor party became the victim of what has been termed a “hate crime.”

Events, including a candlelight vigil at Chin’s graveside and the screening of the Academy Award-nominated documentary film “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” aim not only to commemorate Chin’s death, but to also draw attention to continuing racial intolerance in the U.S., say event organizers. On June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin, who was 27 at the time, was with three friends celebrating his last days as a single man at a strip club in the Highland Park neighborhood of Detroit. An argument erupted between Chin and two white auto workers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, about a stripper at the club. Ebens worked as a supervisor at Chrysler, while his stepson Nitz had recently been laid off.

Disgruntled over auto industry job losses blamed on imports of Japanese cars and mistakenly thinking Chin was Japanese, Ebens reportedly began to hurl obscenities at him.

Evicted from the club after a fight broke out, Ebens and Nitz apparently collected a baseball bat from their car, chased Chin down the street, and while Nitz held him down, Ebens was said to have bludgeoned Chin unconscious. Four days later Chin died from severe head injuries. The judge in the case ruled that Chin was merely the tragic victim of a drunken brawl, and accepting the guilty plea of second-degree manslaughter from Ebens and Nitz, sentenced them to three years probation plus a fine of US$3,780 each. Vincent Chin’s death and what was perceived as the failure of the U.S. legal system to adequately punish his killers outraged Asian-Pacific communities across the U.S., spurring many to lobby for stricter laws. In the twenty years since Chin’s death public understanding of Asian-American communities has increased, but federal laws remain unchanged, according to Karen Narasaki, president of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium.

Efforts only last week by Senate Minority Leader Senator Trent Lott to block the Local Law Enforcement Act aimed at strengthening civil rights protection in cases similar to Chin’s marked a “shocking step backwards,” according to Narasaki.

Nevertheless, Oregon Democrat Representative David Wu, speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, noted that since the backlash against German-Americans and Japanese-Americans during two world wars “on the whole we have made progress.” Since Sept. 11, Americans of South Asian and Arab appearance have increasingly been the victims of racially motivated attacks, making the need for tighter legislation to investigate and prosecute such crimes all the more pressing, said Narasaki.

While supporting increased law enforcement powers, Wu called for Asian-Americans and Americans in general to “rise to a higher level” for “hatred has the power to destroy the target of the hate, but also those who hate.” “This is not just about justice … but about redemption for our entire society,” he concluded.