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12.23.2010

new plaque commemorates vincent chin case


Yesterday in Ferndale, Michigan, community members unveiled a new plaque commemorating the life and brutal 1982 beating death of Vincent Chin, and the important legacy of the landmark case that galvanized the Asian American community and spurred major legal changes: Vincent Chin's beating death spurred changes in Michigan law.

Chin was beaten to death by two men who blamed him for losing their auto jobs to foreign cars. His last whispered words -- "It's not fair" -- were eerily prescient. His killers, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz were given no jail time, $3000 in fines and three years of probation apiece -- a sentence that sparked outrage among Asian Americans across the nation.
The plaque will mark where Shimoura and others held their first protest meetings after Chin's death -- in the back room of the Golden Star restaurant, now the Post Bar, on Woodward at 9 Mile, where Chin had worked, Shimoura said.

The new plaque, placed by the Michigan Bar Association as 34th in its statewide Legal Milestones series, cites the Chin case for spurring key legal changes while a second plaque by Ferndale officials cites the city as "the birthplace of the Asian-American civil rights movement," Mayor Craig Covey said.

"There's a whole generation of people who don't know about this history." It shows that "it doesn't matter if you're fighting for Latino rights or the rights of African Americans or Asian Americans; it's all the same. We're all fighting for equal recognition," said Covey, a longtime champion of gay rights.
Consider this: Chin's killers' ridiculously light treatment led Asian Americans to request intervention by the U.S. Justice Department, ultimately giving the opportunity to identify Asian Americans as a minority group that is protected by civil rights laws. Believe it or not, those laws had not been applied to an Asian American victim prior to Vincent Chin.

More here: Ferndale memorial unveiled to honor Vincent Chin.

Huge props to those original organizers who got angry, stood up, spoke out, and essentially gave birth to an Asian American civil rights movement. Without those first protest gatherings, Chin's death might have been forgotten as just another senseless tragedy. The title of the bronze plaque, "From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry," couldn't be more appropriate.

UPDATE: More on the Vincent Chin plaque unveiling, with photos from Wednesday's event: A Rallying Cry: Vincent Chin's Death and the Birth of A Movement.