On this day in 1982, Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese American draftsman, was beaten into a coma in the Highland Park suburb of Detroit by two white autoworkers. Ronald Ebens and his step-son Michael Nitz, who mistook Chin as Japanese and blamed him for the loss of their jobs, assailed Chin with racial epithets at the bar where he had been having his bachelor party. The verbal altercation ended when the three were thrown out, but the enraged Ebens and Nitz searched for Chin until they found him at a nearby McDonald’s. It was there that Ebens and Nitz bludgeoned Chin with a baseball bat. The comatose Chin died from his injuries four days later.
Ebens and Nitz were arrested by two off duty police officers who witnessed the crime, but through a plea bargain were able to reduce their charges from second-degree murder to manslaughter. They pled guilty to Chin’s murder, but denied any racial motivation. They served no jail time, receiving just three years probation and a fine of $3,000. This outrageous verdict galvanized the Asian American community to call for stronger federal hate crime legislation and served as a critical turning point in Asian American Civil rights engagement.
In 1984, a federal civil rights case was brought against Ebens and Nitz, but even though Ebens was initially found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison, in 1987 he was cleared of all charges after a retrial. Ebens and Nitz lost a civil suit and were ordered to respectively pay $1.5 million and $50,000 to Chin’s family. Still, the judicial system’s failure to seek justice for Vincent Chin’s murder echoes today in the continuous violence perpetrated against marginalized communities that goes unpunished.