Monday, June 19, 2017

Murder of Vincent Chin

Corky Lee
Corky Lee, in front of Chinese Baptist Church at 21 Pell Street, Chinatown, NY


Its been 35 years since the death of Vincent Chin. 

Vincent Jen Chin (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Chén Guǒrén; May 18, 1955 – June 23, 1982) was a Chinese American man who was severely beaten in the Detroit suburb of Highland Park, Michigan in June 1982. The beating led to his death four days later.

The perpetrators were Chrysler plant superintendent Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz. The lenient sentencing of these two men in a plea bargain generated public outrage over the murder attack, which included blows to the head from a baseball bat and possessed attributes consistent with hate crimes. Many of the layoffs in Detroit's auto industry, including Nitz's in 1979, had been due to the increasing market share of Japanese automakers, particularly due to Chrysler's increased sales of captively-imported Mitsubishi models rebadged and sold under the Dodge and now-defunct Plymouth brands, leading to allegations that Vincent Chin received racially charged comments attributing to the layoffs while being beaten.

Ebens and Nitz initially faced a charge of second-degree murder, but were convicted in a county court for manslaughter. They were both sentenced to three years of probation.

The case became a rallying point for the Asian American community, and Ebens and Nitz were put on trial for violating Chin's civil rights. Ebens was convicted of violating Chin's civil rights and was sentenced to 25 years of prison, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. Because the subsequent Federal prosecution was a result of public pressure from a coalition of many Asian ethnic organizations, Vincent Chin's murder is often considered the beginning of a pan-ethnic Asian American movement.


Early life

Born in Guangdong province, China, in 1955, Vincent Chin was the only child of Bing Hing Chin (simplified Chinese: 陈炳兴; traditional Chinese: 陳炳興; pinyin: Chén Bǐngxīng; a.k.a. C.W. Hing) and Lily Chin (simplified Chinese: 陈余琼芳; traditional Chinese: 陳余瓊芳; pinyin: Chén Yú Qióngfāng). His father earned the right to bring a Chinese bride into the United States through his service in World War II. After Lily suffered a miscarriage in 1949, the couple adopted Vincent from a Chinese orphanage in 1961.

Throughout most of the 1960s, Vincent grew up along Woodward Avenue in Highland Park. In 1971, after the elderly Hing was mugged, the family moved out to Oak Park, Michigan. Vincent graduated from Oak Park High School in 1973, going on to study at Control Data Institute. At the time of his death, he was employed as an industrial draftsman at Efficient Engineering, an automotive supplier, as well as working weekends as a waiter at the former Golden Star restaurant in Ferndale, Michigan. He was engaged, and the wedding date set for June 27, 1982.

Homicide

On the night of June 19, 1982, a fight occurred at the Fancy Pants strip club on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park where Chin was having his bachelor party. The group was thrown out and after a heated exchange of words subsequently parted ways. Ebens allegedly instigated the incident by declaring, "It's because of you little motherfuckers that we're out of work!" referring to U.S. auto manufacturing jobs being lost to Japan, particularly referring to sales of Chrysler's rebadged Mitsubishis as captive imports, having mistaken the Chinese-American Chin as being Japanese.Chin taunted Ebens to keep fighting after they were all thrown out. Ebens and Nitz searched the neighborhood for 20 to 30 minutes and even paid another man $20 to help look for Chin, before finding him at a McDonald's restaurant. Chin tried to escape, but was held by Nitz in a bear hug while Ebens repeatedly bludgeoned Chin with a baseball bat until Chin's head cracked open. When rushed to Henry Ford Hospital, he was unconscious and died after four days in a coma on June 23, 1982.

Legal history

Inaction by government and advocacy groups

At the time, government officials, politicians, and several prominent law organizations generally dismissed theories of civil rights aspects of the Vincent Chin beating. The local Michigan ACLU and Detroit chapter of the National Lawyers Guild did not see the connection between civil rights and Chin's death.

At first, only a new group called the American Citizens for Justice (ACJ) lent their support for the theory that existing Civil Rights Laws should be applied to Asian Americans. Eventually the national body of the National Lawyers Guild endorsed their efforts.


State criminal charges

Ronald Ebens was arrested and taken into custody at the scene of the crime by two off-duty police officers who had witnessed the beating. Ebens and Nitz were convicted in a county court for manslaughter by Wayne County Circuit Judge Charles Kaufman, after a plea bargain brought the charges down from second-degree murder. They served no jail time, were given three years probation, fined $3,000 and ordered to pay $780 in court costs. In a response letter to protests from American Citizens for Justice, Kaufman said, "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."

Federal civil rights charges

The verdict angered the Asian American community in the Detroit area and around the country. Journalist Helen Zia and lawyer Liza Chan (traditional Chinese: 陳綽薇; simplified Chinese: 陈绰薇; pinyin: Chén Chuòwēi) led the fight for federal charges, which resulted in the men being accused of two counts of violating Chin's civil rights, under section 245 of title 18 of the United States Code. For these charges, it was not enough that Ebens had injured Chin, but that "a substantial motivating factor for the defendant's actions was Mr. Chin's race, color, or national origin, and because Mr. Chin had been enjoying a place of entertainment which serves the public." Because of possible mitigating factors that could lead to reasonable doubt, such as intoxication leading to the defendant's inability to form the specific intent, the prosecution's proving the evidence of uttered racial slurs were not self-sufficient for conviction. In addition, the defense found Racine Colwell, the witness who overheard the "It's because of you motherfuckers we're out of work" remark, to have received some clemency on a jail sentence for a prostitution charge, which suggested that the government might have tried to cut a deal for her testimony.

The 1984 federal civil rights case against the men found Ebens guilty of the second count and sentenced him to 25 years in prison; Nitz was acquitted of both counts. After an appeal, Ebens' conviction was overturned in 1986—a federal appeals court found an attorney improperly coached prosecution witnesses.

After a retrial that was moved to Cincinnati, Ohio due to the publicity the case had received in Detroit, a jury cleared Ebens of all charges in 1987.

Civil suits

A civil suit for the unlawful death of Vincent Chin was settled out of court on March 23, 1987. Michael Nitz was ordered to pay $50,000. Ronald Ebens was ordered to pay $1.5 million, at $200/month for the first two years and 25% of his income or $200/month thereafter, whichever was greater. This represented the projected loss of income from Vincent Chin's engineering position, as well as Lily Chin's loss of Vincent's services as laborer and driver. However, the estate of Vincent Chin would not be allowed to garnish social security, disability, or Ebens' pension from Chrysler, nor could the estate place a lien on Ebens' house.

In November 1989, Ebens reappeared in court for a creditor's hearing, where he detailed his finances and reportedly pledged to make good on his debt to the Chin estate. However, in 1997, the Chin estate was forced to renew the civil suit, as it was allowed to do every ten years. With accrued interest and other charges, the adjusted total became $4,683,653.89. Ebens sought in 2015 to have the resulting lien against his house vacated.

Aftermath



Vincent Chin's mother, Lily Chin

Chin was interred at Detroit's Forest Lawn Cemetery.

In September 1987, Chin's mother, Lily Chin, moved from Oak Park back to her hometown of Guangzhou, China, to avoid being reminded of the tragedy. She returned to the United States for medical treatment in late 2001, and died on June 9, 2002. Prior to her death, Lily Chin had established a scholarship in Vincent's memory, to be administered by American Citizens for Justice. By the time of Lily's death, Japanese automakers had already started assembling their models stateside.

Legacy

The attack was considered by many a hate crime, but predated hate crime laws in the United States. Nevertheless, during a 1998 House of Representatives hearing on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1997, Congressman John Conyers, Jr. suggested that the problem in making people sufficiently aware of the causes for and injustices of the Vincent Chin case was that it was a political "hot potato" that did not get picked up for "political reasons" with respect to the automobile industry.

Chin's case has been cited by some Asian Americans to support the idea that they are seen as not fully citizens or "perpetual foreigners" compared to "real" Americans. Lily Chin stated: "What kind of law is this? What kind of justice? This happened because my son is Chinese. If two Chinese killed a white person, they must go to jail, maybe for their whole lives... Something is wrong with this country."

Reenacting the Vincent Chin Trial at Harvard Law School



As part of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association’s (APALSA) annual conference, “Soft Power Hard Knockout: The Asian American Punch,” on Feb. 4, 2017  Harvard Law School presented a re-enactment of the Vincent Chin trial, written by Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Chin’s wife, Kathy Hirata Chin, a partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, Dean of Students Marcia Sells, Professor Michael Klarman, and Professor Mark Wu also participated in the reenactment.


Who Killed Vincent Chin?

Christine Choy
Christine Choy
at Chinese Baptist Church
21 Pell Street, Chinatown, NY
Who Killed Vincent Chin? is a 1987 American documentary film directed by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Peña that recounts the murder of Vincent Chin. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Synopsis

On a summer night in Detroit, two white unemployed autoworkers fatally beat Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese engineer, with a baseball bat. The film tracks the incident from the initial eye-witness accounts through the trial and its repercussions for the families involved, and the American justice system at large. After an outcry from the Asian American community led by Vincent's mother Lily Chin, the case becomes a civil rights Supreme Court case. The case ends with tried killer Ronald Ebens let go with a suspended sentence and a small fee.

Watch Trailer



Awards


Purchase your copy now

To purchase your own contact, please contact Corky Lee. The cost for DVD is $20 USD. There is one version in Chinese and one version in English. All proceeds go to the film maker, Christine Choy.


About Ronald Madis Ebens


Ronald Madis Ebens, with his stepson, Michael Nitz, as an accomplice, murdered Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, on June 19, 1982. This led to a federal indictment for violating Vincent Chin's civil rights, but only after public outrage at the probationary sentence and small fine imposed by Michigan Third Circuit Court Judge Charles Kaufman. This sentence could not be reversed due to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits double jeopardy.

Early life

Ronald Ebens was born on October 30, 1939, in Dixon, Illinois. He served 2 & 1/2 years in Army Air Defense School. On August 25, 1965, Ebens started work at Chrysler Corporation's plant in Belvidere, Illinois, and promoted to salaried trim foreman on November 8, 1965. He married Juanita Ebens in 1971, his second marriage after a brief marriage at the age of 18.
His work with Chrysler brought him to Detroit, Michigan, where he owned a bar, Ron's Place, located on Van Dyke Avenue during the 1970s. In 1982, he was a superintendent at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant.

Vincent Chin

The fight which would lead to the death of Vincent Chin started at The Fancy Pants Club, when Chin took umbrage at a remark that Ebens made to a stripper who had just finished dancing at Chin's table (Chin was having a bachelor party, as he was to be married eight days later). According to an interview by Michael Moore for the Detroit Free Press, Ebens told the stripper, "Don't pay any attention to those little fuckers, they wouldn't know a good dancer if they'd seen one."

Ebens claimed that Chin walked over to Ebens and Michael Nitz and threw a punch at Ebens' jaw without provocation, although witnesses at the ensuing trial testified that Ebens also got up and said, "It's because of you little motherfuckers that we're out of work," referring to the Japanese auto industry, particularly Chrysler's increased sales of captively-imported Mitsubishi models rebadged and sold under the Dodge and now-defunct Plymouth brands, and Nitz's layoff from Chrysler in 1979, despite the fact that Chin was Chinese, not Japanese. It is disputed whether Ebens uttered other racial slurs.

The fight escalated as Nitz shoved Chin in defense of his stepfather, and Chin countered. At the end of the scuffle, both Ebens and Nitz were sprawled on the floor, with Nitz suffering a cut on his head from a thrown chair. Chin and his friends left the room, while a bouncer led Ebens and Nitz to the restroom to clean up the wound.

While they were there, Robert Siroskey, one of Chin's friends, came back inside to use the restroom. He apologized for the group, stating that Chin had a few drinks because of his bachelor's party. Ebens and Nitz had also been drinking that night, although not at the club, which did not serve alcohol. Jimmy Choi also reentered the club to look for Siroskey.

When Ebens and Nitz left the club, Chin and his friends were still waiting outside for Siroskey. Chin challenged Ebens and Nitz to continue the fight in the parking lot, at which point Ebens retrieved a Jackie Robinson model Louisville Slugger baseball bat from Nitz' car and chased Chin and Choi out of the parking lot.

Ebens and Nitz searched the neighborhood for 20 to 30 minutes and even paid another man 20 dollars to help look for Chin, before finding him at a McDonald's restaurant. Chin tried to escape, but was held by Nitz while Ebens repeatedly bludgeoned Chin with a baseball bat. Chin was struck at least four times with the bat, including blows to the head. He fell into a coma and died four days later. Ebens was arrested for the initial assault, and spent the rest of Father's Day weekend in jail. After Vincent Chin's death, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz were charged with second-degree murder, a felony which could not be sentenced with probation.

Consequences

  • On July 1, 1982, the Detroit Free Press published a front page article about Vincent Chin's murder. The United Auto Workers told Chrysler of a plan to strike if Ebens remained employed with Chrysler. As management, he was not a member of the union, and the company placed him on vacation, asking Ronald Ebens to leave Warren Truck Assembly later that same day. On July 16, he was placed on unpaid status pending resolution of the case.
  • On March 16, 1983, after a plea bargain was reached the previous month to reduce the charge to third-degree manslaughter (which had no minimum sentence and could be dealt with probation), Judge Charles Kaufman sentenced Ebens and Nitz to three years probation, a $3000 fine, and $780 in court costs; because Chin initiated the physical altercation, neither defendant had prior convictions, that Chin survived for four days on life support lent reasonable doubt to the case of intent to murder, and there was no Wayne County Prosecutor present to argue for a more severe punishment. Kaufman later wrote, "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."
  • On Monday, March 28, 1983, Chrysler formally discharged Ebens from his position at Chrysler, citing that his plea entered a felony conviction on his criminal record.
  • Meanwhile, protests from the Asian American community and Detroit media led to a federal investigation, a November 1983 indictment by a grand jury for the violation of Vincent Chin's and Jimmy Choi's civil rights, and a June 1984 trial in which Michael Nitz was acquitted of all charges, and Ebens was acquitted of one charge, and found guilty of the other. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Ebens' lawyers appealed, and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals found the trial judge to have erred in not allowing the defense to present key pieces of evidence, chiefly an audiotape of Liza Cheuk May Chan of the American Citizens for Justice interviewing Chin's friends together, creating the grounds for an argument that the prosecution tampered with the witness testimony by getting them to "agree on what happened." A retrial was ordered and Ronald Ebens was acquitted of the final charge, with a Cincinnati jury finding no racial motivation in the killing of Vincent Chin.
  • A civil suit for the unlawful death of Vincent Chin was settled out of court on March 23, 1987. Michael Nitz was ordered to pay $50,000 in $30 weekly installments over the following 10 years. Ronald Ebens was ordered to pay $1.5 million, at $200/month for the first two years and 25% income or $200/month thereafter, whichever was greater. This represented the projected loss of income from Vincent Chin's engineering position, as well as Lily Chin's loss of Vincent's services as laborer and driver. However, the estate of Vincent Chin would not be allowed to garnish social security, disability, or Ebens pension from Chrysler, nor could the estate place a lien on Ebens' house.
  • In April 1988, Ebens sued Chrysler for $10,000 and reinstatement on the grounds of wrongful termination. Chrysler claimed that such action at that date exceeded the statute of limitations. This suit was still pending when Ebens was forced to return to court to explain his reasons for failing to keep up with the payments in the Chin settlement.
  • At the November 1989 hearing, the Chin estate, represented by attorney James Brescoll, questioned how Ebens could obtain loans for a Dodge van and Plymouth Sundance requiring payments of $682/month, yet could not meet his $200/month minimum obligation.[8] Ronald Ebens explained about the motorcycle accident in Wisconsin that killed his youngest stepson, Matt Nitz (Juanita Ebens lost her job after quitting work to care for her son), and of Ebens' general inability to find work due to his infamy from the Chin case. Ebens testified that he had stopped looking for work, other than the occasional odd job, and was awaiting the outcome of the litigation against Chrysler.
  • On September 6, 1990, a decision of No cause of action against the plaintiff, Ebens, and in favor for the defendant, Chrysler, at which point Chrysler attempted to sue for the $10,921.84 ($9919 labor and $1,002.84 expenses) in legal fees it spent on the case.
  • On August 28, 1997, the Chin estate renewed the civil suit, as it was allowed to do every ten years. The complaint listed Ebens as having only paid $3,000 on the judgment, and adjusted the damages with $3,205,604.37 in accrued interest, $15.00 for the judgment, $90.00 in clerk fees, and $65.00 for service fees and mileage for a new total of $4,683,653.89. The proof of service listed an address in Henderson, Nevada.
  • Michael Nitz reportedly did make payments pursuant to the original settlement, in spite of filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 1986. Ebens' homeowners' policy paid about $20,000. Ronald Ebens has been attributed with conflicting statements as to whether he ever intends to fulfill his debt, but in a 1987 newspaper interview, Ebens told future filmmaker Michael Moore that he would not give his detractors satisfaction by committing suicide.


Apology

In June 2012 – just before the 30th anniversary of the killing – and in the wake of a prominent retrospective article in the New York Times,[Ebens expressed his contrition in a phone interview from his home in Nevada with writer Emil Guillermo, saying, killing Chin was "the only wrong thing I ever done in my life.".

History of the Chinese Americans in Metro Detroit

In 1982, in Metro Detroit autoworkers killed Vincent Chin, a Chinese American mistaken for a Japanese American. An October 27, 2009 article by the Detroit Free Press stated that "It took the slaying of[...] Vincent Chin by a disgruntled autoworker in 1982 to awaken Detroit of the ugliness and danger of anti-Asian racism." Cynthia Lee, a Chinese American from Hawaii who worked as a reporter for The Detroit News, interviewed Metro Detroit Chinese Americans who criticized the verdict given to the two men, who pleaded guilty and received probation and fines. The Chinese Americans interviewed by Lee stated that the sentences were too light.


###

If you like stories like this, please let me know by liking, sharing, commenting and show your support by purchasing from my online shop, Pucho Marketplace.


Pucho Marketplace






No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog