Category Archives: Asian American

Who Else Killed Vincent Chin?

Alyse Blachly

From the title, “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” I expected a true crime/investigative reporting type of documentary. I had not heard of Vincent Chin before and I assumed the premise would be about the search for a man’s killer(s). I was proved wrong quickly, as in the first 5 minutes, not only are we told who killed Vincent Chin, but we are given eye-witness statements, police testimony, and evidence to prove that the two men responsible really did commit the murder of Vincent Chin by beating him severely with a baseball bat. This gives the title a new meaning, forcing our original assumptions to change, and instead to consider the larger contexts and forces that contributed to Vincent’s killing.

I’ve always been I’m fascinated by the way authors/filmmakers are able to portray the psychology, context, and atmosphere of an actual crime that took place, but also providing us with insights into backgrounds of victim and perpetrator. Last year I took a class on true crime writing and my professor always said that the best true crime writing reveals something about the larger structure of the community. We read books about different types of murderers and sociopaths some going so far as to kill their own families for their own self-advancement. With this background, I thought I’d be able to handle this documentary similarly, but I could not have been more wrong. “Who Killed Vincent Chin” left me feeling the most uncomfortable, outraged, and helpless than I’ve ever felt watching and reading about true crime. Unlike the books I’d read, it wasn’t clear to everyone how evil these men were. That being said, the ideas and emotions that it evokes become all the more memorable and thought provoking because of it.

What initially caught me off guard was the form of the documentary and the way snippets were put together with cultural and contextual transitional or background pieces. A men’s jazz group singing, a conversation in a café about globalization and losing the auto-industry, Christmas music, baseball games, traditional Chinese music are just a few of the pieces that help create the feel of the merging/conflict of cultures. Thrown into the mix are interviews with various people related to the crime. I immediately noticed the attitude toward the murders and their family was not as demonizing as most interviews of murderers are. At that point in the film, I was just very upset that they were even being interviewed in their own home, talking lightheartedly and acting as if an inconvenience had hit their family, rather than being in a prison interview room. As the documentary progressed I saw how including this worked to form the entire story, with multiple voices. It was because the film was put together in such a way that we were able to truly feel the spectrum of feelings in this crime. Nichols analysis of the film also points out the form, saying that it creates a space outside of reality, different from typical crime reporting or documentary. It fuses the very real interviews within a form that is opposite of typical realism structures of most documentaries.

The structure, the story, the interviews, the media, and the history are all important to this story. And what makes it so frustrating is that it isn’t completely obvious to everyone what horrible people Ebens and Nibtz are, let alone deeply saddened and troubled by Vincent’s death and his mother’s grief and plight. We see Eben’s wife, Nibtz’s girlfriend, friends, and co-workers saying what great people the murders are. One quote stood out: “I don’t know the facts, but in my mind I know they are innocent.”(girlfriend of Michael). This speaks to not only the ignorance involved, but also the willful nature of it. Why not get the facts or take a step back to look at what actually happened? So many people did not see this as a murder, but something bad that happened to Ebens who was a “respectable autoworker.”

I think the Asian American community really came together because they saw this extreme injustice and realized that too many people are just okay with it. It became about more than a pair of killers. The justice system, portrayal of Asians in the media, and treatment of Asian Americans in everyday life all had a hand in this injustice. What also frustrated me was that it wasn’t the public that was outraged, but the “Asian American community.” Yes, non Asian Americans were part of the response and movement, but they are only seen in terms of helping the Asian American cause or “plight”. The way I saw this crime was a devaluation of human life and a blatant disregard for the family and friends. Shouldn’t this make everyone upset? Shouldn’t this make everyone want to take action? After all with the recent news stories that are very similar to the Vincent Chin case, things still haven’t changed too much, and it could happen to anyone.

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.

Tagged , ,

Justice for Vincent Chin?

By Kaitlin Wright

The 1980s documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin? was structured in such away that allowed for critical thought on the social issues at hand. Bill Nichols in Historical Consciousness and the Viewer: Who Killed Vincent Chin? describes the film’s organization as “collage structure.” In this definition, he is referring to the clips of material from various sources that are joined together to “narrate” the story. There is no true narrator present in this documentary, so the film is driven by various interviews, news clips, etc. This structure, as previously mentioned, encourages the audience to “actively make connections left unstated by the film” (Nichols). It doesn’t blatantly spell out the issues of racism and the failure of our justice system, but it does steer the viewer in that direction of thought. I found it interesting that Nichols observed the documentary as providing a “will to transform.” The film was used to open the eyes of the population to the unfair nature of the Vincent Chin case and perhaps inspired impetus for change.   

To set up the documentary in time and space, and to allude to a motive for the beating of Vincent Chin, the documentary leads with an explanation of the city trying to deal with a high unemployment rate caused by overseas automobile makers. It sets up the story to show that the city was angry; for instance the film shows images of workers smashing a Japanese car. Once we have established that tensions were high, we start to learn a little bit more about the night of the beating. When the attacker, Ron Ebens, is interviewed in his home, he does not see himself at fault for the death of Vincent Chin. As described by Nichols, Ebens defense is a “refusal to see” that he consciously and maliciously murdered Chin. Ebens says, “it was like this was ordained to be, I guess it just happened.” By pulling phrases like this out of his testimony, the documentary directors shed a somewhat irrational light on Ebens thought process. We, as viewers, are then given the job to sift through what he thinks is legitimate reasoning and actually determine the truth that Ebens is holding back. 

Although statements from Ebens such as, “I didn’t do it on purpose… I didn’t walk up and shoot someone” don’t make sense, I think that there is a greater social consciousness that we have to remind ourselves of. The way that Asian Americans like Vincent Chin were treated at large provides scores of ambiguous and probably repressed opinions towards this minority population. What I mean to say is that what Ebens did was wrong, but the way the court handled the trial and punishment of Ebens highlights an inconsistency in American thought when it comes to protecting Asian Americans. Glen Mimura in Ghostlife of 3rd Cinema writes that “American have placed Asians “within” the U.S. … yet linguistically, culturally, racially marked Asians as “foreign” and “outside” the national polity” (Mimura 16). Vincent Chin appeared to be a well-assimilated Asian American citizen, but popular cultural thought had him ear-marked, consciously, or not, as an “other”. As seen in the Vincent Chin court case, there appears to be an uneven distribution of “power, resources and opportunities in modern society” (Mimura 11). Labeled as perpetual foreigners prevented the Asian American community in Detroit to persuade their case, even though, above the question of race, Vincent Chin’s human rights were taken away from him and handed right over to Ron Ebens.  

Who Killed Vincent Chin? – Howard Diep

Howard Diep | 1020964

In one of my Asian American Studies classes, we screened the documentary film “Who Killed Vincent Chin”. Throughout the course of this video, I was able to have a clearer understanding of the respective individuals that were involved in this tragic event. Although there are many complexities that many people feel about this incident, I looked at it in a different manner where human ignorance and awareness plays an integral role in the actions, outcomes, and reasons for justifications within these happenings. Throughout my screening of the film I also had many questions that I had asked myself such as how a three thousand seven hundred and eighty dollar fine and three years probation be justifiable to an individuals life? It’s unreasonable and ridiculous if you really look deep into the aspects of the situation. However unfortunate this event may be, I thoroughly enjoyed the positive aspects of the film such as how this event sparked the organizing and healing aspect of communities coming together in support, love, and solidarity.  I also enjoyed how this documentary featured individuals of color who were able to express their opinions and concern about what had really occurred during the night of June 19, 1982. After hearing the verdict after taking the case up to the Federal level, I was thinking a lot about people in general, morality, and the structures of power.

After engaging within this film, I reflected and found it somewhat refreshing how the producer of this documentary included a segment of the film dedicated in illustrating the environment that many of these people involved in the Vincent Chin murder case grew up and assimilated in. Detroit, Michigan a city of “Work harder play harder” as quoted in the film. I was really disheartened during the part of the film where Vincent’s mom said “Last Time” really meant Bad Luck and that that really was Vincent’s last time.

I also dislike how many people in America during that time period and currently hold a strong conviction on consumerism and material wealth and unnecessary luxury. One aspect of the film that had good historical insight was the mention of the “Buying Habit’s of cars going through the United States during this time and that this was the “notion of freedom” and American Dream.

I also found it pathetic that law enforcement involved in this case did not notify and seek evidence and testimonies of individuals the bar/stripclub, the officer of color that was on the scene that was the mother of Vincent Chin, and the local dancers in the club.

One amazing moment that really resonated with my heart during the film was a quote from Vincent’s mother, Lily Chin. “Skin is different, but heart is same”.

Who killed Vincent Chin? -Aaron Kim

Who Killed Vincent Chin?

Aaron Kim
Asian American Studies

Vincent Chin was an engineer working for an automotive company in America during the 1980’s. During this time, the US and Japan was in an economic competition in automotive sales and production. In other words, both nations were sincerely against each other even after WWII and its ramifications. Vincent lived rather a humble and proper life through hard work and integrity. However none of it mattered in the end. During Vincent’s last days as a bachelor, he decided to go out to a bar with his friends. What seemed to be like a typical night out with his homies, suddenly turned into tragedy. The first chain towards the tragedy began in the bar, Ron Ebens and Michael Nitz threw out ethnic slurs to enrage Mr. Chin in retaliation , a fight broke out and Chin stood victorious. However Ebens and Nitz wanted to seek revenge and went to look for him hours later where they found him in McDonald’s and proceeded to man handle him and beat him with a bat. Mr Chin fell into a coma and died 4 days later. In addition to the death of Mr. Chin, the Asian Community was furious that the two killers were only given a small fine in their sentence, which later sparked the community as a whole to fight for justice.

After viewing this documentary, it led me to realize that Asian Americans are beyond minorities. In fact it can be said that Asian American are the minorities of minorities. They have virtually no or little representation in the government to voice their concerns, no or little role models and leaders to look up to, and not enough heart to go against their ridicules. If only the Asian Community took the time and effort to protest their ridicules and mistreatment through racism, would the results not be the same as when the African Americans looked to resolve their ridicules?
This documentary also led me to realize the injustice in our Judicial branch and our respective courts. How can murder be justified? How can someone just receive a small fine as a consequence for murder? Even having manslaughter as the sentence should still mean jail time and a hefty fine. There’s no excuse that the sentence was carried out in bias in favor for the white Americans, and bias against the Asian American especially during the time sensitive 1980’s.

In light of all this, the only way to change this injustice is to accept that everyone is culturally bias. We should be faster to forgive than to forget, and become the bigger man. While this case may apply to only Asian Americans, the injustice that the court has shown should be enough to motivate every American citizen to ensure that justice should and always be the key concept in the court of law.

Daisuke Tohyama

79935303        Daisuke Tohyama


Who killed Vincent Chin?

In the film, “Who killed Vincent Chin?”, there is no narrator. There is no clear explanation of what is going on. However, I could understand the story without any explanation even though this was the first time I have watch it. The reason why I could understand it was that it has many visual aids. For example, at the beginning part it projects many bars, dance bars, and African American musicians. These shots imply what the city was like in 1982. Most importantly, it also projects that many Japanese cars are being manufactured and that they come to US to defeat American cars. In the film Japanese manufactured cars were seen flooding to the western side of the globe in a short animation clip. All to convey a fear of  Japanese importation and domination in the car industry as a threat to America. This phenomenon was the social problem of US, especially Detroit in 1982, which was the main site for AAmerican car manufacturing. Many workers in American car companies got fired at that time. I could understand the issues without any narration even though I am categorized as an English learner.

One issue depicted in the film is racism, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz got three year probation and $3,000 fine for the murder of Vincent Chin. Many people claim that because they were white and Vincent was Asian was the reasoning behind the ill judgment of their punishment. If Chin had not been Asian, the outcome would have been different. We can also see the prejudice against African Americans in the film as the African American exotic dancer testimony was seen as less credible to the white dancer. Despite the fact the black dancer was their dancer for the night and heard and saw things first hand, the white dancer’s hearing from afar was seen as more credible.

Although the film shows some issues, it does not show what we are supposed to think about them. African Americans and Asian Americans have been historically shown in propaganda and caricature negatively. Most importantly, the film does not express one opinion. As Bill Nichols mentions, “there is no voice-over commentary to orient us” (Nichols 165). However we can see what’s going on in society or what happened in the past and think about the issues. We can analyze them and think what factors caused them or should have been changed. For these reasons, it is very important to assume why the directors project these shots or choose these angles. For instance, why they projects African American musician many times? The typical image of African American at this time was musician. I think they also imply that African American still are not really fitted to the society at this time. So we have to think about the issue not only literally but also meaningfully. Nichols also states that “Who killed Vincent Chin? , with its superficial resemblance to an MTV visual style, poses the risk of sliding toward a discourse not of sobriety, but delirium.” (Nichols 163). That means the documentary has risk to make the audiences confused, sad or angry instead of thinking about it seriously. After watching the film, the audience could feel only sad. However, it is meaningless that they feel only sad about the story. We have to think about the film and analyze it on our own way. So I think the directors did not include specific explanation or interpretation of it to let the audiences think about the issue by themselves.

By thinking about the issues, people can understand the past events with present mindsets to make society better. Nichols also mentioned that “we assemble a story (histoire) from our present perspective that is meditated by what we now understand of past events in the plot” (Nichols 161). What I think depends on how I understand past events or issues. If I can understand past issues in a way, I also can understand present issues in that way. That means the documentaries can change my present or future mindsets of other issues. The documentaries could influence what we think, which creates our society. I believe that they can change society.

Work Cited

Nichols, Bill.  “Historical Consciousness and the Viewer: Who Killed Vincent Chin?”  : The Persistence of History: Cinema, Television, and the Modern Event. Vivian Sobchack .  New York, 1996.161-165