The racially-motivated beating death of Vincent Chin in Highland Park forty years ago today became a catalyst for Asian-American activism and a spur to hate crime legislation. A State Bar of Michigan Legal Milestone, now permanently placed in Ferndale near where activists first met to protest the death, reads:
From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry
“It’s not fair”—were the last anguished words whispered by Vincent Chin as he lay dying—the victim of a hate crime on June 19, 1982. His words became a rallying cry for the Asian American community outraged at the lenient sentences his assailants received and, they spawned a civil rights movement.
On that fateful evening, Chin and three friends were celebrating his upcoming wedding at a bar in Highland Park. An argument broke out with two unemployed auto workers who blamed Asians for taking away their jobs.
After the group was kicked out of the bar, the two unemployed auto workers pursued and caught up with Chin and his friends on Woodward Avenue. While one held Chin, the other bludgeoned him with a baseball bat. Chin died four days later.
The assailants received three years’ probation and a $3,000 fine for a pled down manslaughter charge. Later, federal civil rights cases against the two were appealed. Juries acquitted both of them.
Although Vincent Chin’s killers were never imprisoned for their crimes, the case galvanized the Asian American community and led to the formation of various groups including American Citizens for Justice. The case also helped form the basis for state and federal changes on important legal issues dealing with hate crimes, minimum sentencing guidelines, and victims’ rights.
Placed by the State Bar of Michigan and the Michigan Asian Pacific American Bar Association, June 19, 2009.
Detroit native Frank Wu, former Wayne State Law dean and now dean of Hastings Law School, writes about "Why VIncent Chin Matters" in today's New York Times.