June 1982, Detroit: In the midst of a major recession, Japanese automakers were making a big splash in the American marketplace — out-designing and out-selling domestic cars. Waves of layoffs racked the city known as the heart of America’s auto industry, breeding despair and anger.
27-year-old Vincent Chin, the only child of Chinese immigrants, was celebrating his bachelor party at a local strip joint when he got into an argument with ex-Chrysler employee Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz. Ebens had only recently been laid off.
Ebens instigated by declaring, “It’s because of you little [expletive] that we’re out of work,” apparently unaware of the fact that Chin was not Japanese. A physical altercation ensued before both groups were kicked out of the club and separated. Ebens and Nitz went to their car and returned with a baseball bat. Chin and his friends started running, but Nitz caught Chin in front of a McDonald’s and held him down while Eben repeatedly hit him with a baseball bat. He took at least four blows, including some to his head. As the groom-to-be slipped into unconsciousness after the beating, he whispered to his friend, “It’s not fair.”
Chin died after four days in a coma on June 23, five days before his wedding.
Ebens and Nitz were arrested, but a plea bargain brought the charges down to manslaughter. They were given three years probation and fined $3,000. The civil-rights cases brought against them were appealed, and they were acquitted. Neither ever served jail time.
This May, the documentary “Vincent Who?” was featured on CNN and screened at the San Diego Asian Film Festival. Directed by Tony Lam, the film analyzes the historic importance of the Vincent Chin murder case, which is often cited as the catalyst for the modern Asian American movement toward unity and activism.
Nearly 30 years later after Vincent’s murder, the current economic climate is chillingly similar. The country is in another recession, and once again, American automakers are crippled by it. As the anniversary of Vincent’s death approaches this month, take a moment to remember that the true test of tolerance doesn’t occur in times of wealth and plenty. And please, educate others on who Vincent Chin was.
To request a screening of “Vincent Who?” at your high school or college campus, e-mail email@example.com.
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Last modified: June 11, 2009