People have not forgotten Vincent Chin.
Ten years after the Chinese American was brutally murdered by two unemployed Detroit autoworkers, people across the United States will gather to remember him and other victims of anti-Asian violence.
In Seattle, a candlelight vigil will commemorate Chin on June 23 in the International District’s Hing Hay Park from 8-8:45p.m.
“The vigil would represent a poignant reminder of the need to address anti-Asian violence,” said Karen Yoshitomi, regional director of the Pacific Northwest District of the Japanese American Citizens League. “Even after 10 years have passed, the concern over the increase in anti-Asian violence underlines the need for community involvement.”
The theme of the vigil is “We Must Not Forget.” It will include a keynote address by Seattle Central Community College Professor Tracy Lai, a reading of names by local community leaders of Asian Americans who have been killed as a result of anti-Asian prejudice, and a performance by the local Korean American rap group the Seoul Brothers.
Calling for justice and an end to all forms of bias-motivated violence, Asian American groups around the country will hold similar gatherings. Commemorations for Chin will take place in Los Angeles, Detroit, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and New York.
Vincent Chin was murdered by two unemployed Detroit autoworkers, Ronald Ebens and his stepson Michael Nitz, on June 19, 1982, in Detroit’s Highland Park area. According to a waitress, a scuffle broke out in a local nightclub after Ebens, an auto plant foreman, told Chin, “It’s because of you, motherf-s, that we’re out of work.”
Ebens and Nitz later followed Chin to a nearby restaurant parking lot where an off-duty police officer and several bystanders witnessed Ebens repeatedly strike Chin on the head with a baseball bat, crushing his skull. Chin died four days later on June 23, only days before he was to be married.
Charged with only second-degree murder, Ebens and Nitz eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter. They were later sentenced to three years probation and a $3,780 fine.
The lenient sentence touched off a flurry of activities from Asian American organizations around the nation. Chin’s death sparked what many consider an Asian American civil rights movement calling for justice.
“People felt complete and total outrage and disbelief,” said Helen Zia, who spearheaded the national movement for justice. “It [the murder] touched people at a time, especially in the Michigan area, where people were feeling like targets…” Zia was then a reporter for the Detroit Free Press at the time.
Both Ebens and Nitz were later charged by the federal government for conspiracy and violation of Chin’s civil rights. Yet, despite these national efforts, neither Ebens nor Nitz spent a day in prison for Chin’s murder.
According to Zia, heightened anti-Asian sentiment in recent years has led to thousands of racially motivated assaults and killings of Asian Americans. Yet, very few of these attacks have been investigated or prosecuted as hate crimes. Many Asian Americans feel the criminal justice system has failed the Asian American community.
Zia also notes that highly publicized Japan-bashing, especially following the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, in addition to pervasive stereotypes of Asian Americans as the “model minority,” have led to increased racial antagonism and hostility directed against all Asian Americans, regardless of their national origin.
Seattle’s growing local Coalition to Commemorate Vincent Chin has formed as community groups condemn all forms of bias-motivated violence.
“As a Chinese American I am aware that there is more violence going on in our community. I would like to bring attention to anti-Asian violence before it gets worse,” said Denise Sharify, Asian Pacific community advocate for Seattle Rape Relief and one of the organizers of the local commemoration.
“I’d like for people to know that we can come together and fight for justice. I’d also like to recognize women who are often victims of anti-Asian violence.”
The candlelight vigil is endorsed by over 25 local organizations, including: the International Examiner, the Japanese American Citizen League Pacific Northwest District Office, the Unity Organizing Committee, the Washington State Commission on Asian American Affairs, Seattle Rape Relief, American Friends service Committee, Washington Asian and Pacific Islander Student Union, the Filipino American Political Action Group of Washington, the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, the Central Area Motivation Program, Queer Nation, the Asian Pacific AIDS Council, the Seattle Chinatown/International District Public Development Authority, the International District Community Health Center, Women of Color: Organize For Justice, Asian Lesbians Outside of Asia, the Seattle Office for Women’s Rights and several other organizations.