Killing of Vincent Chin

Vincent Jen Chin (Chinese: 陳果仁; May 18, 1955 – June 23, 1982) was a Chinese American draftsman who was killed in a racially motivated assault[2][3] by two white men, Chrysler plant supervisor Ronald Ebens and his stepson, laid-off autoworker Michael Nitz. Ebens and Nitz assailed Chin following a brawl that took place at a strip club in Highland Park, Michigan, where Chin had been celebrating his bachelor party with friends in advance of his upcoming wedding. They apparently assumed Chin was Japanese and witnesses described them using racial slurs as they attacked him, ultimately beating him to death. Ebens and Nitz blamed Chin for the success of Japan's auto industry.

Killing of Vincent Chin
Vincent Chin
LocationHighland Park, Michigan, U.S.
DateJune 19, 1982; 40 years ago (1982-06-19)
Attack type
Homicide, manslaughter[1]
VictimVincent Jen Chin
Perpetrators
VerdictState charges:
Pleaded guilty to manslaughter
Both perpetrators sentenced to three years of probation and $3,780 fine
Federal trial verdicts:
Ebens guilty of one count of violation of civil rights, but verdict overturned; on retrial: Ebens not guilty of violation of civil rights
Nitz not guilty of violation of civil rights
ChargesState charges:
Manslaughter
Second-degree murder (dropped after plea deal)
Federal charges:
Violation of civil rights (2 counts each) (found not guilty)
LitigationEbens ordered to pay $1.5 million to Chin's family, Nitz ordered to pay $50,000
Vincent Jen Chin
Traditional Chinese陳果仁
Simplified Chinese陈果仁

Although accounts vary, the men got into a physical altercation and were removed from the club as a result. Ebens and Nitz eventually found Chin in front of a Highland Park McDonald’s. There, Nitz held Chin down while Ebens repeatedly bashed him in the head with a baseball bat. Chin was taken to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where he died of his injuries four days later.[4]

At the time, Metro Detroit was a powder keg of racial animosity toward Asian Americans, specifically as the penetration of Japanese automotive imports in the U.S. domestic market hastened the decline of Detroit's Big Three. Resentful workers laid the blame for recent layoffs on Japanese competition.

Ebens and Nitz pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 1983, in a plea bargain from an initial charge of second-degree murder. While Ebens and Nitz never denied the brawl, they claimed the fight was not racially motivated and said they did not use racial epithets.[5]

Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Charles Kaufman sentenced Ebens and Nitz to only three years' probation and a $3,000 fine plus costs but with no jail time. Judge Kaufman's rationale for his leniency was that it was Chin who initiated the physical altercation, Ebens and Nitz had no prior convictions, Chin survived for four days on life support, and the prosecutor failed to argue for a more severe sentence. Judge Kaufman further states that Ebens and Nitz "weren't the kind of men you send to jail [...] You don't make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal."[6]

The lenient sentence led to an outcry from Asian Americans. The president of the Detroit Chinese Welfare Council said it amounted to a "$3,000 license to kill" Chinese Americans. As a result, the case has since been viewed as a critical turning point for Asian American civil rights engagement and a rallying cry for stronger federal hate crime legislation.[7]


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