How the 1982 Murder of Vincent Chin Ignited a Push for Asian American Rights

On June 19, 1982, an American Chinese man named Vincent Chin went with friends to a strip club in Detroit to celebrate his upcoming marriage. That night, two white men who apparently thought Chin was Japanese beat him to death. At the killers’ trial, the men were each fined $ 3,000 and no prison terms. The light sentence sparked national outrage and fueled a pan-Asian American rights movement.

Chin was born in the Chinese province of Guangdong and raised in Detroit with his Chinese American adoptive parents. In the summer of 1982, he was 27 years old and working in computer graphics, and his hometown – formerly known as an auto manufacturing capital – was in decline. Many American auto workers blamed the Japanese automakers for the drop.

In the evening Chin went out with his friends, Chrysler foreman, Ronald Ebens, 43, and his 22-year-old stepson, Michael Nitz, who lost his job at Chrysler were also at the club. Reportedly, a dispute arose between groups of men over a male stripper. A club dancer later remembered that Ebens had shouted at Chin, “It’s because of you, shit, that we’re out of work.”

After the fight moved outside, Ebens grabbed a baseball bat from his car and began chasing Chin, who fled. Ebens and Nitz then drove for about 20 minutes in search of Chin. When they found him, Nitz held Chin while Ebens beat him to death with the baseball bat. Chin died in hospital four days later from his injuries.

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