And this is how revisionist history happens: Remembering Vincent Chin

Vincent Chin film

By Jae-Ha Kim
May 1, 2014

With just one article, the Detroit News has taken a step towards revising what happened to Vincent Chin on June 19, 1982.

Most Asian-Americans of a certain age will remember that Chin and his friends were celebrating his upcoming nuptials at a Detroit-area strip club. That evening, he exchanged words with Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz, two white men who blamed the recession on the Japanese. A fight broke out.

“It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work!” Ebens said. He didn’t know — or care — that Chin was of Chinese ethnicity, not Japanese.

Both parties were thrown out of the club. And that should’ve been the end of that.

But Ebens and Nitz took it one step further, offering a man $20 to help them hunt Chin down. Once they found him at a McDonald’s parking lot, they beat him with a baseball bat so severely that they cracked his head open.

Chin’s final words were, “It’s not fair.”

On what should’ve been his wedding day, friends and family instead attended Chin’s funeral.

He was 27 years old.

For their crime, Ebens and Nitz were fined a little over $3,000. They spent no prison time.

Think about it. Lindsay Lohan spent 84 minutes in jail for driving under the influence. These men served ZERO minutes for taking a human life.

For many Asian-Americans at the time — including myself — the Chin murder was a wake up call that reinforced the notion that Asian-Americans were regarded as perpetual foreigners within the United States.

Two days ago, on April 29, Neal Rubin of the Detroit News, wrote an incendiary column that placed the burden of being murdered on Chin. If you go to that link, please keep in mind that since its original publication, Rubin (or the newsroom staff) have changed the wording no less than three times in an attempt to make the article less inflammatory.

Writer Jenn Fang, who does an incredible job of addressing Rubin’s column in her post here, includes a link to a cached version of Rubin’s piece prior to the edits.

In his original piece, Rubin wrote, “Chin became more important than his attacker ever was.” Yeah, too bad Chin isn’t alive to gloat over being so important. You know, what with Ebens having killed him and all.

He provided no new facts, just conjecture from another reporter who covered the case and seemed obsessively fixated that one of the witnesses was “wacky,” because she apparently didn’t wear undergarments. (Much of that content has been removed during the Detroit News’ revisions of the piece.)

Rubin points out several times that Chin’s blood alcohol level was 0.14. In other words, he was drunk. Can you imagine? A man getting drunk at his bachelor party? 

The columnist also implies that Ebens was made a scapegoat to appease the Asian-American community. Highly unlikely. Let me tell you a little something about the 1980s. Asian Americans had little to no power, political or otherwise.

In yesterday’s Huffington Post piece, law professor Frank Wu wrote in detail about what happened in 1982. It’s an articulate, well-written counterpoint to the Detroit News’ shoddy attempt at revising history:

Other witnesses reported that Ebens and Nitz referenced another of Chin’s friends after they weren’t able to capture him, saying they should get the other motherfucker instead. They explained how Ebens and Nitz recruited a bystander and paid him to help catch the “Chinaman,” saying they planned to “bust some heads.”

The evidence was overwhelming. Ebens and Nitz took a plea deal.

The court criminal dockets in Wayne County were so crowded — Detroit being the murder capital of the nation in those days — that the government had a standard operating procedure of not showing up for sentencing in such cases. The judge, being told this had been nothing more than another drunken altercation that exceeded the expectations for such affairs, sentenced the defendants to probation for three years and a fine of $3,000 each.

No single incident involving an Asian American had aroused such anger before, and none has since. The community organized to form American Citizens for Justice. The name was deliberate. It was meant to signal these individuals, immigrant and native-born alike, were members of the body politic, equals within this diverse democracy.

It boggles my mind that there are people trying to claim that the Holocaust didn’t happen. Or that the concentration camps that America set up for American citizens of Japanese ethnicity during World War II really weren’t so bad. There are some who claim that the Japanese Imperial Army didn’t kidnap, rape and torture Korean girls and force them into sexual slavery. With most of the victims dying off, who’s to say that these revised versions of history won’t one day be regarded as fact?

Let’s not forget what really happened to Vincent Chin. He was killed by two men who literally walked away without serving a day in prison. And that is the sad truth.

© JAE-HA KIM | All Rights Reserved  

Comments (9)

  1. friendly reminder that a chinese man’s life is only worth $3,780 in the eyes of the white man.

  2. danslavoie says:


  3. sarahjhuynh says:

    How is this dude even a reporter? Does he have new information? New sources? Nothing. Just shitty writing.

  4. enkhi77 says:

    This is why we need to write our own history. We can’t have idiots like this attempting to white wash a horrible crime as some sort of barroom mistake.

  5. admiralmackbar says:

    what a piece of work. what a professional “reporter”. would you post the screenshot if/when you find it?

  6. Mikael Chukwuma Owunna says:

    The Vincent Chin case was such a critical moment in Asian American political organizing. How shameful that the Detroit News would run such a slanderous, disgusting piece, particularly spreading misinformation to many young people who have never even heard of the case (I hadn’t until last July, sad to say).

  7. Kim Jaehwa says:

    Two events that stand out in my mind are the Vincent Chin case in 1982 and the L.A. riots in 1992. In the first, there was no justice for Vincent Chin. What the verdict said to Asian Americans was that America doesn’t care whether a “chinamnan” is killed. What the L.A. riots said was that white cops can beat a black man and then angry people will retaliate by burning down businesses run by Korean Americans. We live in such a racist society. It’s better than “back in the day” but it’s still a scary time for people of color.

  8. Roy Lee says:

    Just goes to show don’t mess with the White Man in America bc they can get away with murder. Like 2 in Florida recently.

  9. A documentary by his cousin was made called “Vincent Who?”. I saw it at the NCORE Conference a few years back. Amazing stuff. I think that people forget these important details of life in Michigan/Detroit.

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