Who is Vincent Chin?
Photo: Courtesy of American Citizens of Justice
Chin was born in China’s Guangdong province and grew up in Detroit with his adoptive Chinese American parents. In the summer of 1982, he was 27 years old and working as a draftsman in his hometown, which was once known as an automotive manufacturing capital, until its decline.
June 19, 1982
On the night of June 19, 1982, Chin went with friends to a bar in Detroit for his bachelor party in celebration of his upcoming wedding.
That night, two recently laid-off, white autoworkers targeted Chin, wrongfully assuming he was Japanese. The white men started a fight with Chin and began spewing racist remarks, blaming him for the declining U.S automotive industry. After the altercation in the bar, Chin fled the scene in fear and was followed by the same white men. They drove around for 20 minutes looking for Chin until finding him and beat him to death with a baseball bat. Chin died four days later from the injuries.
Miscarriage of Justice
Photo: Courtesy of the Museum of Chinese in America
Despite the brutal murder of Vincent Chin, the white men responsible never faced a day in jail. Instead, they were found guilty of manslaughter and received a $3,000 fine, $780 in court costs, and three years’ probation. Judge Charles Kaufman, the assigned judge for the case, defended the ruling stating, “These aren’t the kind of men you send to jail. We’re talking here about a man who’s held down a responsible job for 17 or 18 years, and his son is employed and is a part-time student. You don’t make the punishment fit the crime. You make the punishment fit the criminal.”
Vincent Chin’s Legacy on the Asian American Activism
Photo: The estate of Lily and Vincent Chin
Although there were instances of Asian American activism before Vincent Chin, his murder marked a turning point for the Asian communities who hadn’t previously thought of themselves as “Asian Americans” with shared experiences. Two weeks after the verdict, activists in Detroit created a pan-Asian American civil rights organization called American Citizens for Justice (ACJ). ACJ, along with other groups around the U.S, protested the sentencing and petitioned the U.S Department of Justice to investigate Vincent Chin’s murder as a civil rights violation – which it did. This marked the first time Asian Americans were protected in a civil rights prosection. Before this, Asian Americans weren’t acknowledged as a protected class.
Photo: Courtesy of The Kheel Center ILGWU Collection, Cornell University
Forty years after Vincent Chin’s murder we see not just the legacy of Vincent Chin but also the painful history of prejudice amongst Asian Americans that is made more relevant in the recent rise of anti-Asian hate crimes nationwide amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Chin’s memory, we must remember our commitment to fight against systemic racism and end the perpetual foreigner stereotype.