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Vincent Jen Chin was a 27-year-old Chinese-American draftsman from Detroit, Michigan who died on 23 June 1982, following a beating by Chrysler plant supervisor Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz four days earlier.
At the time of the assault, many autoworkers in the city (including Nitz) were out of work, the result of Detroit's automakers facing stiff competition from Japanese automakers. This led to prejudice against anybody who looked "Japanese", i.e. anybody of East Asian descent whether or not they were actually Japanese American. Chin was celebrating his bachelor party at a strip club, when a fight broke out between Ebens and Nitz on one side and Chin and his friends on the other. Many witnesses said that Eben and Nitz started the fight, with one alleging Eben shouted, "It's because of you little motherfuckers that we're out of work!" Other witnesses, including Eben and Nitz, said that Chin attacked Eben. In the end, both parties were thrown out. Later, Ebens and Nitz searched around for Chin, found him at a McDonald's, and beat him into a coma with a baseball bat. "It's not fair..." were his last words. Ebens and Nitz were arrested by two off-duty police officers who witnessed the assault.
In court, a plea-bargain brought the charges against Ebens and Nitz down from second-degree murder to manslaughter. They were both sentenced to three years probation and a $3000 fine. Neither served any jail time as punishment (though Ebens did after his arrest, for the rest of the weekend). Judge Charles Kaufman justified the light sentence on the grounds that: "These 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." The judge had several previous controversial decisions, imprisoning school teachers for refusing to work and imprisoning a town board for not approving a new sewer line. Many Asian Americans were appalled by these trivial penalties, and groups coalesced to demand a retrial. A federal civil rights case was brought against Ebens and Nitz. During the trial, Ebens was found guilty, but the conviction was later thrown out due to coaching of prosecution witnesses. Chin's mother, disgusted by these proceedings, moved back to China.
- During the later civil rights trial, it was discovered that the witness who reported this statement had been given leniency on a prostitution charge, leading to accusations that she made it up in order to get a deal.
- Wu, Frank H. "Why Vincent Chin Matters." The New York Times, 22 June 2012 (recovered 14 November 2014).
- See the Wikipedia article on Charles Kaufman (judge).
- OCA MOURNS DEATH OF LILY CHIN. (2002, June 10). Organization of Chinese Americans.