The Murder of Vincent Chin and How It Changed America

By Grace Taylor
Lillie Chin (mother of Vincent Chin, who was clubbed to death by two white men in June 1982) breaks down as a relative (left) helps her walk while leaving Detroit’s City County Building in April 1983. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

On June 19, 1982, a young man named Vincent Chin was celebrating his bachelor party at Detroit's Fancy Pants strip club along with several of his friends when he overheard a group of men harassing his table's dancer. This led to a confrontation between Chin and the men, Robin Ebens and Michael Nitz, who shouted, "It's because of you little motherf---ers that we're out of work," referring to their recent layoffs as autoworkers. Auto manufacturing was the backbone of the Detroit economy, and many in the area blamed the rise of the Japanese auto industry for flagging sales of American cars. Ebens and Nitz likely made the comment believing that Chin was of Japanese descent, though he was, in fact, Chinese-American.

According to eyewitnesses, the men directed several racial slurs at Chin during the confrontation, and a fistfight broke out. After Chin subdued the pair, the bachelor party decided to leave the club to avoid further violence, but Ebens and Nitz weren't finished. Humiliated and angry, they collected a baseball bat from the back of their vehicle and drove around town, looking for Chin and his friends, until eventually spotting them at a McDonald's. They jumped Chin in the parking lot, where Nitz held his arms back while Ebens bashed him in the head with the bat, knocking him out and causing major brain damage. The men were quickly arrested, and Chin died four days later at the hospital, never having regained consciousness.