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6.23.2017

There will be a vigil tonight outside the home of Vincent Chin's killer

Vincent Chin died on June 23, 1982.



Thirty-five years ago today in Detroit, four nights after being severely beaten in the head with a baseball bat, Vincent Chin died. The case would become a seminal rallying point for the Asian American community. And tonight, concerned community members plan to gather for a vigil outside the home of Chin's killer.

For those unfamiliar with the case: Chin was out at a strip club celebrating his bachelor party when he got into a fight with a couple of disgruntled auto industry workers, Ronald Evens and his stepson Michael Nitz. Witnesses say they heard Ebens yell "It's because of you little motherfuckers that we're out of work!" -- referring to U.S. auto jobs being lost to Japanese manufacturers. Vincent Chin was Chinese American.

The fight was broken up, but Ebens and Nitz weren't finished. They searched for Chin outside the club, tracked him down to a McDonald's and attacked him. Nitz held Chin in a bear hug while Evens repeatedly bludgeoned him with a baseball bat until his head cracked open. Vincent fell into a coma and died on June 23, 1982.

NPR's Morning Edition aired a Story Corps interview Vincent Chin's best friend, Gary Koivu, who talks about his lifelong friendship with Vincent and hauntingly recounts the night he witnessed his murder.




Ebens and Nitz were arrested and charged with second-degree murder, but struck a plea bargain to reduce the charges to third-degree manslaughter. They served no jail time, were sentenced to three years probation, fined $3,000 and ordered to pay $780 in court costs. And that's it.

"These weren't the kind of men you send to jail," Wayne County Circuit Judge Charles Kaufman later said. "You don't make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal."

You may already know all this. This case is considered a seminal moment in our community's history, galvanizing Asian Americans who sought justice for Vincent Chin, as well as the larger struggle for civil rights. The federal case against Ebens and Nitz was the first time the Civil Rights Act was used in a case involving an Asian American victim. Prior to Chin's murder, Asian Americans were not protected by hate crimes legislation.



You may also know that when all was said and done, Ebens and Nitz walked free, never serving a day in jail.

Somewhat less known is the ensuing civil suit against Ebens and Nitz, for the unlawful death of Vincent Chin. The case was settled out of court in 1987, with Nitz ordered to pay $50,000, and Ebens ordered to pay $1.5 million to Chin's estate. To this date, with accrued interest and other charges, it is believed that Ebens still owes the Chin estate more than $8 million in wrongful death claims.

By the way, Ebens is still living his life in 2017. Hanging out, probably watching reruns of NCIS or some shit. While Vincent Chin is still dead.


Ronald Ebens in 'Who Killed Vincent Chin?' (1987)

Tonight at 7:00 PM, there will be an impromptu candlelight vigil outside the residence of Ronald Ebens in Henderson, Nevada. Veteran photographer Corky Lee announced on Facebook that he and anybody he "can muster" would be there tonight after a screening of the documentary Who Killed Vincent Chin? He invites any and all concerned community members in the area to join him. Wait, is that even legal?

This will be a peaceful gathering. They'll be observing all local statues by assembling on the sidewalk, staying off the street and not blocking any driveways. And they'll just be there, braving the triple-digit Nevada heat to remind -- and, let's be honest, publicly shame -- Ronald Ebens about his hate crime, as well as commemorate the life, death and legacy of Vincent Chin, 35 years later. Because we have not forgotten.