A Chin Up for Justice: The Murder of Vincent Chin

Melody Erhuy


If you Google Search “important events in 1982”, you’ll get articles on the beginning of recession in the United States, news about the first artificial heart implant, and a report on a Canadian serial killer who received eleven consecutive life sentences for killing eleven children. Maybe you’ll see a clip of E.T. or Rocky III as you scroll on, or images of the first issue of USA Today. I would be surprised if you saw the name Vincent Chin bolded after searching page after page, or if you already knew who he is. Or more accurately, was.

Take a look at this photo. Image

No, this is not a group of African Americans rallying for civil rights in the 1960s. No, this is not a mourning group of John Lennon fans fawning over his sudden murder. No, this is not even for John F. Kennedy’s sake. Dated in the mid 1980s, this photo is of a rally in Michigan for the unjust prosecution of Vincent Chin’s murderers, Rob Ebens and Michael Nitz, who were let off with a $3,000 charge for Vincent’s murder. No life sentence (or eleven like the Canadian serial killer) – only a monetary fine for a life. After a few racial slurs at a local strip joint, both men chased down Vincent into the middle of a street, where they beat him to near death with a bat. Vincent Chin died in a coma during 1982, and this photo was taken years after that as the surrounding Asian American community took a stand for their – and Vincent Chin’s – rights. And, I bet you did not even know about it.

One of the more shocking elements of Vincent Chin’s story and other cases on Asian American racism is that it is all so recent. Whenever I learned about racism throughout my education, it all felt as if it was history – a thing of the past, and nowhere near present day happenings. I was taken back when I first heard that the civil rights movement occurred in the 1960s, because that even felt too close to home. I lived in a bubble of equality; I thought that racism was a detail left only visible in print and old media, that today’s society was filled with love and respect for all types of people. I never even considered the plight of Asian Americans in American society until watching a documentary on Vincent Chin. After doing so, everything was shattered – all I thought before was just a lie. I was speechless. Racism was still prevalent in the 1980s, and there are still unjust crimes fueled by intolerance in America to this day.

One of the best (or should I say worst) quotes from the movie was from Ron Ebens, describing his thoughts on the motivation behind the Asian American protestors: “they’re just using this to advance themselves and their alleged plight in this country. […] In fact, my daughter used to help an Asian girl in school.” As if Ebens’ nonchalant attitude on the whole murder situation was not enough, he completely typecasts all Asians into having a similar agenda in advancing themselves in America through their protesting – oh the horror! This statement goes hand in hand with sentiments felt by many during the beginning of Asian immigration to the United States – with more Asian Americans grew the fear of competition in previous citizens’ hearts. Asians were first accused of stealing American jobs, and much of the residue from those days still remained prevalent in major cities, such as Detroit, as Ebens had demonstrated. While the monstrosity of his actions against Vincent were atrocious, his not-so-subtle racism against Asian Americans crossed father over the line that he could have imagined. His racist views, and the many others who were similarly minded, were the most damaging to the Asian American community as it slowly oppressed them in their own nation. Isn’t America supposed to be a melting pot of different people, a blending of one culture after another to form a beautiful reflection of the world?

If anything, the murder of Vincent Chin taught me about the invalidity of justice in this nation. I always believed that the American court system had everyone’s best interest in mind. Yet with the rulings seen time and time again for Ebens and Nitz, such a claim is only but a fantasy to dream on rather than depend on.

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