Racism Killed Vincent Chin

Unless you are Asian American or involved in civil rights in some manner, there is a good chance that you have never heard the name of Vincent Chin. Senior citizens might remember about him. He would have turned sixty-five years old in May 2020. Vincent Chin was murdered and died a violent death because of racism. Unlike George Floyd, Vincent Chin did not die at the hands or knee of a police officer. Vincent Chin was beaten to death by two ordinary citizens.

Vincent Chin was born on May 18, 1955, in China. He was living in an orphanage when he was adopted in 1961 by a Chinese couple living in America, Bing Hing “David” Chin and Lily Chin. Chin grew up in Highland Park, Michigan, during most of the 1960’s, but the family moved to Oak Park, Michigan, in 1971. Vincent Chin graduated from high school in 1973 and studied at Control Data Institute. He became employed as a draftsman at an automotive supplier company and worked weekends as a waiter at a Chinese restaurant.

Detroit, Michigan, was the scene of racial animosity toward Japan and Japanese people during the early 1980’s. There had been an oil shortage which caused gasoline prices to go up. Japanese cars, which were smaller and more fuel efficient than the cars being manufactured in the United States, were gaining in popularity. The U.S. domestic market saw the decline of Detroit’s Big Three automakers, Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. U.S. autoworkers were considered as expensive with the cost of wages, pensions, health insurance, and work rules of unions. Many autoworkers in Detroit were laid off and lost their livelihood. The workers were angry and blamed Japan and the Japanese. They did not distinguish between different ethnicities of Asian people. Therefore, the animosity was directed at any Asian with whom they came into contact although most of them were Americans.

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Being engaged with a wedding date set for June 28, 1982, the twenty-seven year old Vincent Chin was having a bachelor party at a club with some of his friends on the night of June 19, 1982. Also at the club were two white men, Ronald Ebens, a foreman at Chrysler, and his step son, Michael Nitz, who had lost his job at Chrysler. Assuming Vincent Chin and his friends were of Japanese heritage, a confrontation ensued with the two men blaming Vincent Chin and his friends of causing their loss of jobs. The young Asian American men were called names as they were accused of being Japanese and causing their problems. Vincent Chin and his friends, along with Ebens and Nitz, were thrown out of the club. Chin apparently was not intimidated, but they parted ways.

Ebens and Nitz drove around for twenty minutes looking for Chin and his friends. They found them at a McDonald’s. Ebens beat Chin savagely with a baseball bat which he had in his truck. An off-duty police officer witnessed the attack and later stated that Ebens acted like he was swinging to hit a home run. He beat Chin to death as Chin died four days later in the hospital. It was absolutely racism that caused Vincent Chin to die an untimely death.

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No one disputed the fact that Ebens had killed Vincent Chin. However, Ebens and Nitz did not receive any prison time and were given a $3,000 fine. The murder did not make national news at the time, but Asian Americans were outraged. The men admitted that they were guilty as there were witnesses to the beating, but they went free. Racism was rewarded.

Black people have faced extreme racism and still do. Racism is a horrible problem, and it affects lots of people in this country. Something needs to be done about racism to improve conditions and create more equity in the world. People should not be subjected to racism.

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by Irene Mori