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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Asian American Heritage Month, day 10

Vincent Chin Remembered The crime itself is significant in its glamourlessness. On the night of June 19, 1982, a young man named Vincent Chin, 27, attended his bachelor party -- a gathering of himself and a few close friends -- at the Fancy Pants strip club in a suburb of Detroit. While there, Chin and two Caucasian men, Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz, get into a disagreement, in which Ebens insults Chin, thinking Chin is Japanese and responsible for the downturn in the auto industry. The altercation becomes boisterous and is broken up by the staff at the Fancy Pants, and shortly thereafter, Chin and his friends leave the club. Twenty minutes later, Ebens and Nitz, having gotten a baseball bat from the trunk of their car, searched for and found Chin and his friends at a nearby McDonald's restaurant. They harassed Chin from outside the restaurant, and when he emerged, they knocked him to the ground, beating him viciously with a baseball bat. Vincent Chin died four days later from injuries sustained in the attack. Crimes like these occur every day. What made Chin's case unique was its unmistakable aura of racial hatred, compounded with the justice system's shocking tolerance and continued sympathy for Ebens and Nitz. On March 16, 1983, Wayne County Judge Charles Kaufman found Ebens and Nitz guilty of manslaughter (defined as "the unlawful killing of another without malice; may be either voluntary upon a sudden impulse, or involuntary in the commission of some unlawful act") and agreed to a plea bargain in which they were sentenced to three years probation and a $3,000 fine. At no point during the trying were Chin's mother, Lily Chin, or any witnesses to the crime called to testify. After a vocal outcry by Detroit's Asian American community, the FBI launched an investigation of the crime. On the recommendation of the FBI findings, the U.S. Justice Department charges Ebens and Nitz with violating Chin's civil rights and for conspiracy to murder. In June 1984, Ebens was found guilty of violating Chin's civil rights but was not found guilty of conspiring to murder Chin. Nitz was aquitted of both charges. Ebens was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released on $20,000 bond pending an appeal. On September 1986, Ebens' conviction was overturned because an attourney for the American Citizens for Justice was found to have improperly coached the prosecution's witnesses. A retrial was called the following year, with the trial moved to Cincinnati. In May 1987, the Cincinnati jury found Ebens innocent of all charges. Meanwhile, the family brought a civil suit against Ebens which ordered Ebens to pay $1.5 million to Chin's state in a court-approved settlement. But, instead of doing so, Ebens got rid of all of his assets and fled the state. He still has not paid a penny to the family, nor has he spent a single day in jail for his crime. Though Lily Chin, Vincent's mother, and a resident and citizen of the U.S. for over 40 years, left America in disgust over the American legal system that could not find justice for her son, and returned to her home village in Guangdong province, China, the Vincent Chin murder underscored to Asian Americans the dissonance between our community and the American diaspora. Vincent Chin galvanized the Asian American political movement, giving us a rallying point with which to demand improved recognition of our civil rights. Though APIAs and Vincent Chin's family have yet to see real justice, Chin's memory will live on as APIAs continue to struggle for recognition and acceptance as true Americans. For more information on Vincent Chin's murder, the poignant Academy Award nominated film "Who Killed Vincent Chin?" is highly recommended. On June 10, 2002, Mrs. Lily Chin passed away, still having not seen her son's murderers pay for their crimes.

The following death notice has been prepared by the family and friends of Mrs. Lily Chin, for release on June 10, 2002: Mrs. Lily Chin, 1920-2002 Mrs. Lily Chin, formerly of Oak Park, Michigan, passed away at the age of 82 on June 9, 2002 at 1:55 am at the Farmington Hills (Mich.) Health Center, after a long illness. A beloved figure in the Asian American community of metropolitan Detroit, she was the mother of Vincent Chin, who was killed by two autoworkers in 1982. Mrs. Chin lived these last 20 years following her son's death with great dignity and strength, and to many people she represented tremendous moral courage in the face of injustice. She often expressed her gratitude to all those around the country who had been so kind and supportive to her. Born in Heping, China in Guangdong Province, Mrs. Chin came to the U.S. after World War II to marry David Bing Hing Chin, a Chinese American World War II veteran and a resident of Highland Park, Michigan. David Chin had worked in Detroit's laundries and restaurants. Lily Chin became an active member of Detroit's Chinese American community, and in the early 1960s, she and her husband adopted Vincent, their only child. On the eve of her son's bachelor party on June 19, 1982, he was brutally attacked and killed. Mrs. Chin had courageously persevered in the fight for justice in her son's murder and the subsequent trials of her son's killers, Chrysler plant superintendent Ronald Ebens, and his stepson, Michael Nitz. She never gave up in her quest for justice and her hope that no other mother would lose a child from hate and prejudice. For the last 15 years, after the legal efforts on her son's behalf ended with the acquittal on appeal of Ronald Ebens, Mrs. Chin moved to China, after spending most of her life in Detroit as a U.S. citizen. She left her longtime home in Oak Park because it was too painful to continue to be reminded of the hate killing and injustice against her son. A civil judgment of $1 million was levied against Ronald Ebens, but he successfully evaded making payment despite efforts of community groups to enforce the judgment. Mrs. Chin had planned to live out her years in China, until her illness brought her back to family and friends in Detroit. Vincent Chin's slaying came to symbolize anti-Asian violence nationally and internationally. His death took place in the climate of a protracted national anti-Japanese and anti-Asian hysteria. In the moments before the fatal attack, witnesses overheard Ronald Ebens say to Vincent, "It's because of you motherfuckers that we're out of work." After Wayne County Judge Charles Kaufman sentenced the confessed killers to only three years' probation and fines for their vicious bludgeoning attack on Chin, a civil rights movement of Asian Americans was born, led by Detroit-based American Citizens for Justice, with Mrs. Lily Chin's active involvement. Her legacy, and her son's, was recorded in the Academy-award nominated documentary film, "Who Killed Vincent Chin?," which has been viewed by millions of Americans. Federal prosecutors eventually brought forth the first criminal civil rights prosecution involving an Asian American victim in U.S. history. Asian American efforts on Vincent Chin's behalf and other victims of hate crimes led to a broadening of federal hate crimes prosecutions. June 19, 2002 marks 20 years since the fatal assault on Vincent Chin, and numerous commemoration events are scheduled around the country. In Detroit, a teach-in will be held on June 21 and a grave side memorial for Vincent is planned for June 23; for information see the website at: http://rededication.cjb.net. Other events honoring Mrs. Chin and Vincent Chin are planned in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Seattle and Philadelphia (for complete information see: www.vincentchin.net). Mrs. Chin had established a scholarship in Vincent's memory, to be administered by American Citizens for Justice; donations may be sent to ACJ at P.O. Box 2735, Southfield, MI 48037. She was a member of the Farmington Hills Chinese Bible Church. She leaves behind a sister, Amy Lee and nephew Lewis Lee, both of Farmington Hills, niece Jenny Lee of Troy, as well as several other sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews across the U.S., in Hong Kong and China. Visitation hours are on Friday, June 14, 2 - 9 pm, and a public memorial service will be held on Saturday, June 15, 2002 at 10:00 am. The funeral home is William Sullivan & Son Funeral Home, 705 W. Eleven Mile Rd., Royal Oak, just west of Woodward; (248) 541-7000. At 11:00 am, Saturday, there will be a funeral procession to Forest Lawn Cemetery, on Van Dyke Ave., south of McNichols, in Detroit.

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