Detroiters to honor Vincent Chin 40 years after his death with 4-day event

Vincent Chin 40th
  • Politicians and Asian American community leaders gathered at the intersection of Peterboro and Cass in Detroit’s Chinatown on Monday to recognize the life and legacy of Vincent Chin and announce a four-day commemoration that will start on June 16.
  • The commemoration, titled “Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance & Rededication,” will launch the Vincent Chin 40th Commemorative Film Series and include conversations about “democracy, racial justice and Asian American culture.”
  • "We cannot talk about hate crimes and senseless killing without talking about Vincent Chin," Rebeka Islam, director of the Vincent Chin 40th Committee, said at the gathering. “This is the place to really have these movements and educate people and what does that mean for tomorrow.”
  • Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese American industrial draftsman, was celebrating his bachelor party before becoming involved in a racially motivated attack on June 19, 1982.
  • He was brutally beaten by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz with a baseball bat and died at the hospital on June 23, 1982, less than a week before his wedding.

A coalition of national and local groups shared its plan to hold a four-day commemoration in June to mark the 40th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s murder.

Politicians and Asian American community leaders gathered at the intersection of Peterboro and Cass in Detroit’s Chinatown Monday to recognize the life and legacy of Chin, who was killed during a racially motivated attack on June 19, 1982.

“We cannot talk about hate crimes and senseless killing without talking about Vincent Chin,” Rebeka Islam, director of the Vincent Chin 40th Committee, said at the gathering.

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“This is the place to really have these movements and educate people and what does that mean for tomorrow,” she told WXYZ-TV Detroit later that day.

The upcoming commemoration, titled “Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance & Rededication,” will start on June 16. It will launch the Vincent Chin 40th Commemorative Film Series and include conversations about “democracy, racial justice and Asian American culture.”

Interest in Chin’s murder was reignited as Asians and Asian Americans in the country continue to face racially motivated attacks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Helen Zia, the executor of Chin’s estate.

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“We know that Vincent Chin’s death was fueled by anti-Asian hate, and that is what is so rampant today, but Vincent Chin’s legacy was so much more than that,” Zia said.

Chin was celebrating his bachelor party at Fancy Pants Tavern, a strip club in Highland Park, when he encountered Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz. The 27-year-old was supposed to get married nine days later, on June 28, 1982.

Ebens and Nitz were reportedly upset that the Japanese automotive industry took their jobs away, and they directed their anger at Chin, a Chinese American industrial draftsman, and his friends, who were mostly Asian. Witnesses at the scene said they heard Ebens hurl racial slurs at Chin.

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After the men were kicked out of the strip club, Ebens and Nitz retrieved a baseball bat and searched for Chin and his friends. They eventually found Chin outside a McDonald’s and split his skull open. He remained comatose at the hospital and died on June 23, 1982.

Ebens and Nitz were arrested, but neither of them spent time in prison. The two men were each given a three-year probation and a fine of $3,000, with Michigan Judge Charles Kaufman telling a Detroit civil rights group protesting the decision that Ebens and Nitz “weren’t the kind of men you send to jail.”

“The horrific baseball bat killing of Vincent Chin on the eve of his bachelor party and the miscarriage of justice that followed, and allowed his two white killers to be freed without spending a single night in jail because the judge then said these are not the men you send to a Detroit jail,” Zia said on Monday.

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Chin’s case pushed lawmakers to reform Michigan’s legal system and how they handle cases, according to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

“There are in your life certain events that shake your outlook,” Duggan said at the event. “I got deeply interested in this case. How could this happen in my hometown? The [criminal justice] system didn’t care. It was a deep lesson, something we’re learning to this day, that the system acts differently depending on the color of your skin.”

State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D, MI-1), the first Asian American woman elected to the Michigan Legislature, said it is disheartening that “40 years later, there’s still so much work to do” regarding the surge in anti-Asian hate.

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“There is just so much rich history here in Michigan of Asian American activism that does not get talked about a lot,” Chang said. “But a movement was born here and that needs to be respected and lifted up as well. And that could be something that brings us some more energy and enthusiasm for the fight that we need to continue to fight.”

 

Feature Image via WXYZ-TV Detroit | Channel 7

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