This past weekend marked 29 years since the death of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American who was beaten to death in Detroit. Emil Guillermo at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund blog revisited the case and tracked down the man responsible for Chin’s murder, Ronald Eben, who never served any jail time.
After an altercation at a strip club outside Detroit, auto worker Ebens bludgeoned 27-year-old Chin to death with a baseball bat. Chin was held down by Ebens’ stepson Michael Nitz, who had lost his job at Chrysler. A witness testified in court that Ebens said to Chin, “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work,” - referring to his belief that the success of the Japanese auto industry contributed to layoffs in Detroit’s auto companies. The prosecutor worked out a plea bargain with both men, sentencing them to two years probation and a $3,780 fine for reduced charges of manslaughter. The judge defended the light sentences, saying that his job was to fit the punishment to the criminal, not just the crime.
The outcome of the case outraged Asian Americans across the country, who organized and were able to bring about federal charges against the two men for violating Chin’s civil rights. The Justice Department found Ebens guilty, and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. But the judgement was thrown out on appeal due to technicalities, and because of the publicity of the case, the retrial was held in Cincinnati, Ohio. There, Ebens was acquitted of all charges.
“Twenty-nine years later, and there’s a new generation waiting to be given the reality check that is the Chin story. In America, it’s still very possible to engage in a racially motivated crime—the murder of an Asian American—and get away with it,” Guillermo writes. “I figured Ebens’ perspective could be useful in understanding how the justice system worked fine for someone like him, but not for Vincent Chin.”