Allen & Overy Honors the Legacy of Vincent Chin through a Virtual Trial Reenactment

Vincent Chin is a name painfully familiar to some and unrecognizable to others. It is the beginning of so many stories, including mine. Three years ago, I met Annie Tan (no relation to me, though we happen to share the same name), an Asian American activist, teacher, and niece of Vincent Chin. She was the keynote speaker at Crossroads, a conference for young Asian American activists organized by Columbia students. I was a confused 16-year-old attending my first conference dedicated to activism. 

At the time, I had just begun exploring my Asian American identity and history. Through self-education and discussions with other students, I learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act and the model minority myth. But, despite my interest in activism, I did not believe that I could seriously pursue or be successful in creating change for the Asian American community. Who would listen to a young, Asian American girl, not even old enough to vote, talk about race, especially when these conversations are often so complex and black and white?

However, as Annie Tan stood behind the podium and began recounting her own journey in activism–how she found a supportive community through Columbia’s Asian American Alliance, and how the legacy of her uncle, Vincent Chin, affected her work–I realized that someone like me, someone who looked like me and even had the same name as me, could be an activist. Because of Asian American women like Lily Chin and Helen Zia, Vincent Chin’s death became not just a moment, but a movement for Asian Americans. And, it is because of people like Annie Tan, and maybe even people like me, that the story of Vincent Chin, and the story of Asian America, continues to be told and heard.

This year, on May 28, during APA Heritage Month, the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) co-sponsored a virtual trial re-enactment of the Vincent Chin case with Allen & Overy–the first time a reenactment has been performed virtually via WebEx due to the restrictions of COVID-19. I attended this event, hoping to learn more about the man whose life inspired so many, including myself, to speak out against hatred, violence, and inequity.

Vincent Chin was beaten to death in 1982 in Detroit days before his wedding by two white men, Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, who were laid-off automobile workers. The fatal assault was preceded by an argument between Chin and Ebens, who hurled racial insults at Chin, reportedly calling him a “Nip.” At the time, Asian Americans were the face of the enemy: the robust Japanese automobile industry was putting many automobile workers in Detroit, like Ebens and Nitz, out of work. 

Despite the violent acts that Chin’s murderers committed, they were imposed only a fine for their crimes. When the case reached the Wayne County Circuit Court, Judge Kaufman, finding Ebens and Nitz guilty of manslaughter, only sentenced them to three years probation and a fine of approximately $3,000. They received no jail time, and no prosecutor appeared during the trial, nor was Chin’s family notified of the trial. 

Frustrated with this outcome, Helen Zia and Lily Chin, supported by the newly-founded Asian American civil rights organization American Citizens for Justice (ACJ), urged the U.S. Department of Justice to bring federal criminal charges against the murderers and investigate the case as a civil rights violation. The case was brought to Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, one of the first African American women to serve on the Federal bench, and in 1984, the U.S. District Court found Ebens guilty of violating the civil rights of Chin and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. However, Ebens’ lawyers appealed, claiming that the trial judge did not allow the defense to present evidence that suggested the prosecution tampered with the witness testimony. This led to a retrial in the federal court in Cincinnati on May 1, 1987, which found that Ebens was not guilty of violating Chin’s civil rights and that his actions were not motivated by Chin’s race. The same year, Ebens and Nitz settled a civil suit out of court, where Nitz was ordered to pay $50,000 and Ebens was ordered to pay $1.5 million to the Chin estate. To this day, Ebens has not served any jail time and has yet to pay the now $8 million (with accumulated interest) he owes to the Chin family.

The Vincent Chin case highlighted the flaws in our criminal justice system and served as a catalyst for Asian American civil rights engagement. Following the trials, federal and state laws were enacted to give victims of hate crimes greater rights. The case also led to reforms in sentencing and plea bargaining, including the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. Most importantly, Chin’s murder awakened the civil rights consciousness of Asian Americans in a time when the subject of race was still Black and White. Asian Americans were galvanized by the notion that they, just like Vincent Chin, could be beaten to death because of their race without the perpetrators suffering any consequences. People across ethnic and socioeconomic lines joined together to seek justice for Chin, creating organizations such as American Citizens for Justice, now known as the Asian American Center for Justice, focused on civil rights work.

A panel discussion followed the trial re-enactment, featuring: Christine Choy, director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary film, “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” and professor at NYU Tisch School of Arts; Emil Guillermo, print and broadcast journalist, and contributor to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s blog; and Jia Lynn Yang, Deputy National Editor at The New York Times and author of One Mighty and Irresistible Tide, which examines the history of immigration in the United States. The discussion was moderated by John Hwang, Partner, and Jiawei Chin, Associate, at Allen & Overy. 

Christine Choy reflected on the evolution of activism and the Asian American identity, referencing major events such as the end of the Vietnam War, and the rise of the Black Panther Party and other young student movements. She cited the Red Guard Party in Chinatown as an early example of Asian American activism and stressed that Vincent Chin’s murder was responsible for asserting Asian Americans’ role in civil rights.

Emil Guillermo emphasized that though the crime of Vincent Chin awoke people in Detroit, he, himself, did not know as much as he should have about the case. As we approach the 40th anniversary of Chin’s death, most people still do not understand the full picture of what happened during Chin’s case. Guillermo also highlighted the similarities between Vincent Chin’s death and that of George Floyd, urging the Asian American community to recognize their shared experiences with Black communities.

Finally, Jia Lynn Yang noted how quickly the Asian American population has grown, rising from 3.5 million in 1980 to now over 20 million. Despite their growing presence, Asian Americans are still viewed as foreigners who will never belong in the United States, just as Vincent Chin was. In fact, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which allowed many Asian Americans to immigrate to this country, was not consciously written to welcome non-Europeans. Now, however, almost two-thirds of Asian Americans are foreign-born, and the xenophobic attacks Chin faced have transformed into anti-Asian violence and harassment from racially-charged fears over COVID-19.

Many of us are tied to Vincent Chin, often in ways we may not even realize. He is the reason why many individuals, like myself, are inspired and emboldened to engage in Asian American activism. Vincent Chin is not just a memory they think of once a year, on the anniversary of his death. As I listened to Annie Tan describe her family’s pain, and how brave and lonely Lily Chin–her great aunt–was as she fought for her son’s justice, I understood that Vincent’s murder is a wound that continues to haunt families, friends, and communities connected to him, and a legacy that is still alive in Asian Americans today.

It is easy for us to forget their names: Vincent Chin, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain. But we must recognize that these individuals are not simply statistics or hashtags. Their lives–cut short by racism, bigotry, and the failures of our criminal justice system–mattered. Their lives have the power to inspire people to take action against hate and to spark movements, but this is only possible if we continue to learn about and honor these individuals, whose stories have been lost and overlooked. Only then, by acknowledging those before us, can we strive to create real change and avoid repeating the past.

We thank Allen & Overy and all of the participants in the reenactment for giving their time to raise awareness of Vincent Chin’s legacy. To learn more about the Vincent Chin trial reenactment and to request the script, go here. For more information about AABANY’s trial reenactments project, visit https://reenactments.aabany.org/.

Celebrate APA Heritage Month with AABANY

Despite the restrictions against public gatherings during COVID-19, AABANY has remained active and busy for APA Heritage Month, hosting multiple community presentations about anti-Asian harassment and violence on May 13, 16, and 17, in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Korean.

We will continue to celebrate APA Heritage Month during the remainder of May, and we hope you will join us at the following events. Please follow the links for further details and to register.

Wednesday, May 20
AABANY Members Invited: Lowenstein Cooks for a Cause
5:00-6:30 PM
Zoom Conference
To register: https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1379391

Thursday, May 21
AABANY Co-Sponsors: General Counsel Virtual Panel
4:30-6:00 PM
Zoom Conference
To register: https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1374410

Thursday, May 21
White & Case Presents a Virtual Screening of Alternative Facts: The Lies of Executive Order 9066
4:15 PM
Zoom Conference
To register: https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1379976

Wednesday, May 27
AABANY Co-Sponsors: COVID-19: Relief for Small Businesses Webinar Series Part 1 (Labor and Employment Law)
5:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Webinar
To register: https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1380520

Thursday, May 28
AABANY Co-Sponsors: A Virtual Trial Reenactment: Remembering the Murder of Vincent Chin
3:00-5:00 PM
To register: https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1380200

Thursday, May 28
AABANY Co-Sponsors: COVID-19: Relief for Small Businesses Webinar Series Part 2 (Restructuring and Bankruptcy Law)
5:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Webinar
To register: https://www.aabany.org/events/event_details.asp?legacy=1&id=1380546

NAPABA Honors the Legacy of Vincent Chin 35 Years after His Death


News Release

For Immediate Release
June 19, 2017

                                                   For More Information, Contact:
                                                   Brett Schuster, Communications Manager
                                                   bschuster@napaba.org, 202-775-9555

NAPABA Honors the Legacy of Vincent Chin 35 Years after His Death

WASHINGTON — The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) commemorates the 35th anniversary of the murder of Vincent Chin. On June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin was beaten in a xenophobic attack during a wave of anti-Japanese sentiment and died a few days later. Vincent Chin’s death and his killers’ lenient sentences marked a turning point in Asian Pacific American civil rights advocacy in the United States.

“Vincent Chin’s murder inspired a generation of Asian Pacific American community leaders and lawyers to join an inclusive movement for civil rights,” said NAPABA President Cyndie M. Chang. “His death and subsequent trial underscored the importance of the Asian Pacific American community standing together in the fight against racism and advocating in the courts. We must continue to build on this legacy by continuing to oppose hate and xenophobia in all forms.”

Chin’s murder and the sentences of his killers highlighted the lack of a strong national voice for Asian Pacific Americans in the legal sector. Recognizing the need to establish such representation, NAPABA was founded in 1988 to give voice to values of justice, equity, and opportunity for Asian Pacific Americans. Since that time, NAPABA has been strongly committed to civil rights advocacy. With the current rise in hate crimes targeting diverse communities, NAPABA hopes that the historic weight of Chin’s case serves as a persistent reminder of the importance of protecting and advocating for civil rights.

NAPABA honors Vincent Chin’s memory and the continued legacy of advocacy that emerged in the wake of his death.

For more information, the media may contact Brett Schuster, NAPABA communications manager, at202-775-9555 or bschuster@napaba.org.

The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) is the national association of Asian Pacific American attorneys, judges, law professors, and law students. NAPABA represents the interests of almost 50,000 attorneys and more than 80 national, state, and local Asian Pacific American bar associations. Its members include solo practitioners, large firm lawyers, corporate counsel, legal services and non-profit attorneys, and lawyers serving at all levels of government.

NAPABA continues to be a leader in addressing civil rights issues confronting Asian Pacific American communities. Through its national network of committees and affiliates, NAPABA provides a strong voice for increased diversity of the federal and state judiciaries, advocates for equal opportunity in the workplace, works to eliminate hate crimes and anti-immigrant sentiment, and promotes the professional development of people of color in the legal profession.

To learn more about NAPABA, visit www.napaba.org, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter (@NAPABA).

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association | 1612 K St. NW, Suite 510 | Washington, D.C. 20006 | www.napaba.org

Curtis Chin, who made the documentary “Vincent Who?” about the murder of Vincent Chin and its continuing relevance today, is in New York filming his latest project, called “Tested,” which follows a group of 8th graders preparing to take the test that will give them the chance to attend one of New York City’s specialized high schools.

Curtis has less than a month to raise $20,000. Help him reach his fundraising goal! Check out the video trailer and if you want to support his project, find out more on his Kickstarter page at http://kck.st/15tsnXP

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On Monday, November 19, the AABANY Trial Re-enactment Team, led by the Hon. Denny Chin and Kathy Hirata Chin, presented for the second time this year a re-enactment of the Vincent Chin Murder Trial.  The Hon. David F. Bauman, Presiding Judge, Civil Division, Superior Court of New Jersey, Monmouth County, saw the performance at the Eastern Super Regional in Atlantic City back in June and was so moved and riveted by it that he invited the team to present it at the New Jersey Judicial College, held at the Marriott Glenpointe in Teaneck, N.J., before an audience of New Jersey state court judges.

In the cast were the Hon. Denny Chin, John Bajit, Vincent Chang, Yang Chen, Francis Chin, Kathy Hirata Chin, Vinny Lee, Concepcion Montoya, Yasuhiro Saito, Vinoo Varghese, Ona Wang and David Weinberg.

The performance proved powerful yet again, with an especially moving turn by Ona Wang as Jimmy Choi, who held the dying Vincent Chin in his arms that fateful night thirty years ago in Detroit.

The Vincent Chin re-enactment script has been reprinted in a special edition of the AABANY Law Review that includes all the AABANY Trial Re-enactment scripts except for Heart Mountain, which was just performed at the NAPABA National Convention on November 17. (Photos here.) To find out how to obtain your copy go to http://lawreview.aabany.org/current-issue/.

NYT Op-Ed: Why Vincent Chin Matters

NYT Op-Ed: Why Vincent Chin Matters

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On May 22, at New York Law School, AABANY together with the Asian American Arts Alliance (a4) and the Museum of Chinese in America, co-produced “Revisiting Vincent: The Legacy of the Vincent Chin Case 30 Years Later.” The slideshow above contains photos taken by Corky Lee who also shared with us at the event original photos from 1983 when the Asian American community erupted in protest in Detroit over the lenient sentence given to Vincent Chin’s murderers.

In addition to the performance, from a script based on the original trial transcripts, the Hon. Denny Chin and Dean Frank Wu provided a historical, legal and social context for the case during an engaging and lively talkback session following the performance.  After that, audience members were invited to stay for a reception, at which Community Presenters OCA-NY, CAAAV and POV were available to engage in dialogue about how their current work is informed by and connected to the legacy of the Vincent Chin case.

Vincent Chin 30: Standing Up Then and Now

A nationwide Google Hangout with leading civil rights leaders from around the country featuring Congressmember Judy Chu (CA-32), CAIR-SF Executive Director Zahra Billoo, OCA Executive Director Tom Hayashi, Asian American Justice Center Executive Director Mee Moua, and more.

WHEN:
Saturday, June 23, 2012
1:30 ET/10:30 am PT – doors open
2 pm ET/11 am PT – program begins

In 1982, Vincent Chin was the victim of a hate crime murder in Detroit. Thirty years later, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continue to face discrimination and bullying. In light of recent tragedies like the suicide of Pvt. Danny Chen and the continuing effects of 9/11, what can Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders do to stand up against racism and discrimination?

Join for a one-hour panel discussion with leading voices from the nonprofit and legal communities as they address these timely issues. Viewing parties have been organized in more than 30 cities and individuals can tweet in questions at #VC30.

Albany • Atlanta • Austin • Boston • Charlotte • Chicago • Cleveland • Dallas • Denver • Detroit • Fremont, CA • Gainesville • Grand Rapids • Hartford • Houston • Irvine, CA • Ithaca, NY • Los Angeles • Lowell, MA • Minneapolis • Morgantown, WV • New York • Philadelphia • Raleigh • Sacramento • San Francisco • San Jose • Seattle • St. Louis • Washington • Wichita and more

Presented by Asian Pacific Americans for Progress

National co-sponsors (in formation): Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), Chinese American Citizens Alliance (CACA), Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP), National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC), South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), Southeast Asian Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

Media Sponsors: 8Asians.com, Angry Asian Man

For more info, go to: www.apaforprogress.org/VC30