TALES OF WHITE RESENTMENT: THE MURDER OF VINCENT CHIN

On June 23, 1982, thirty-four years ago today, two unemployed Detroit auto workers (both white) were hanging out at a strip club called Fancy Pants in Highland Park. At the same time, a Chinese-American named Vincent Chin was there having his bachelor party. Drunkenly, the white auto workers began harassing him and his party, at one point yelling according to witnesses, "It's because of you motherfuckers we're out of jobs!" Chin did in fact work tangentially in the auto industry as a draftsman for a parts supplier on the outskirts of Detroit. Unless the Chinese auto industry was more relevant in 1982 than anyone outside of Fancy Pants knew, it is assumed that the hecklers thought Chin was Japanese. Close enough for angry white people, I guess.

Chin, according to witnesses, exercised his God-given right to fuck with drunk assholes, making fun of them and verbally egging them on. So they responded in that whitest, malest of ways, scouring the neighborhood for a half-hour after the club emptied out before finding Chin in a McDonald's, presumably drunkenly waylaying some fries. They waited until he emerged and then beat him to death in the street with a baseball bat. Any number of the blows to his head once he was unconscious could have been the fatal one. Witnesses, of which there were many, reported hearing them yell further racial slurs at him.

Beating a person to death in front of an audience with the knowledge that one is unlikely to be punished is something Americans usually associate with white-on-black violence in the pre-Civil Rights South, but it worked in 1982 Detroit as well. The Wayne County prosecutor and judge not only allowed them to plea-bargain down from 2nd Degree Murder (murder without premeditation, which is actually kind of dubious here given the length of time they spent searching for their intended victim, but we'll let that slide) to Manslaughter, but he noted that "These aren't the kind of men you send to jail" when releasing them immediately with a small fine and three whole years of probation.

It doesn't take a very deep reflection on the current state of the country to realize that little has changed in the last 34 years. Any behavior up to and including cracking someone's skull with a baseball bat is acceptable as long as the perpetrators are white, the victims aren't Real Americans anyway, wink, and white people have sufficient cause to be (choose one: angry, scared). The lesson we refuse to learn from the murder of Vincent Chin and thousands of other crimes like it is that the more we scapegoat and condone vilification of a group of people, the more we signal that their lives aren't worth quite as much as our white ones. There are a ton of not-terribly bright people out there – the kind who get drunk at strip clubs and think it's a decent idea to beat someone to death because he or she made you mad – who internalize that message very well. It turns out that if you tell enough half-wits enough times that (insert demographic group) is to blame for the problems in their life resulting from ignorance, laziness, and limited opportunities, some will eventually cross the line from merely being assholes into violence. Every aspect of our society, culture, and justice system that reinforces the message that Their lives are valued at a discount shares responsibility for crimes like this one, not for swinging the bat into the skull but for teaching white people, especially men, that the system will look the other way and accept the right to commit violent acts out of hate as just another thing they are owed.

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18 Responses to “TALES OF WHITE RESENTMENT: THE MURDER OF VINCENT CHIN”

  1. Katydid Says:

    I remember that beating making the news, but I don't remember ever hearing any news about the follow-up or the trial. Around that time, in the southern hellhole I live in, it was a popular fundraiser to take a foreign-made car and sell tickets to swing a sledgehammer at it until it was utterly destroyed.

  2. Katydid Says:

    Also in the 1980s: the weird dichotomy of some people wearing t-shirts with Japanese characters on them and eating sushi, and other people hating the Japanese because they were economically successful.

  3. ronzie Says:

    Remember when the Japanese were "buying up America" in the 80's? How'd that turn out?

  4. John Danley Says:

    You know, gentlemen attending a gentleman's club.

  5. Tim H. Says:

    One thing bitterly amusing about the fall of Detroit is how much blame has been shifted onto labor, who made none of the poor decisions.

  6. Amateur Socialist Says:

    Reading this reminded me of the Academy Award nominated documentary featured on POV. http://www.pbs.org/pov/whokilledvincentchin/

    Recommended.

  7. c u n d gulag Says:

    If you're white, it's alright.

    If you're yellow, red, or brown, you're going down!

    I'm waiting for the first gun-nut to write, wondering if we should ban bats, since they can kill.
    Or defending carrying bats on the streets, since they'll say, 'Bats don't kill people. People kill people.'

    But, of course, there' no NBA – National Bat Association, so…
    Oy………..

  8. Major Kong Says:

    Hey, you remember the time that guy went into a crowded movie theater and killed 20 people with a baseball bat?

    Me neither.

  9. Skipper Says:

    Great timing. This column comes out just as a Baltimore cop was acquitted on all charges for deliberately driving a police van so recklessly that it killed Freddie Gray. However, if you look at a cop cross-eyed, you are charged with assault and battery and "resisting arrest."

    Some years ago, in my hometown in "liberal" Massachusetts, there was a big fire downtown. It drew a lot of spectators. At one point, a cop looked over, saw another cop, a young guy, on the ground, and saw a young Latino guy keeling over him. Without question or comment, they dragged the Latino guy up, knocked him around for a while, and then cuffed him. When they finally got around to paying attention to the cop on the ground, he was dead. So they charged the Latino guy with murder.

    Later, after the autopsy, it came out that the cop died from an previously undiagnosed congenital heart ailment. And witnesses testified that the young "murderer" was actually trying to administer CPR.

    The cops were so eager to rough up a young Latino guy that they let their buddy die on the ground.

  10. mothra Says:

    Wonder what those fuckheads who killed Vincent Chin are doing now?

  11. Chicagojon2016 Says:

    @mothra

    Yah, don't google it —
    Robert Ebens is a deadbeat who hasn't paid the Chin family according to terms of the civil case against him yet apparently/shockingly isn't in jail for the rest of his life as he no doubt would be if it was an unpaid speeding ticket and he was black.

  12. Leslee Beldotti Says:

    I think this could also apply to young white college guys who swim well.

    ANYONE who is not white and male in our culture is less human.

  13. Mike Says:

    I assume the point of this is to institute a mandatory death penalty for premeditated murder. Also to, you know, actually charge people with first-degree murder when they planned to kill a guy.

    What this country needs is more capital punishment.

  14. Robert Says:

    When I see some hammerhead comment on a FB post about 'white privilege', my stock response is "I could shoot someone, still be holding the gun when the police arrive, and not get shot. That's what white privilege is."

    Usually shuts 'em up good.

    The converse – that my son could be practicing his karate in a park and get shot dead for doing so, with no repercussions for the officer who shot him – is, of course, the absence of white privilege.

  15. Safety Man! Says:

    Just wanted to point out that yes, baseball bats are indeed classified as weapons and as such are not allowed in federal buildings, or doubtless just carried on the street in some jurisdictions. Funny how legislating that isn't a controversy.

    Tl;dr next time someone throws the argument "why don't we make ____ illegal then too, those are the real weapons" you can say, how about that, we already did.

  16. Timurid Says:

    TALES OF WHITE RESENTMENT: THE MURDER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM

  17. Jimcat Says:

    "ignorance, laziness, and limited opportunities" – the older I get, or maybe the worse the world economy gets, the more it seems that "limited opportunities" is the dominating factor. And it's the one that the individual can do the least about. So what are these people to do? Obviously I don't think that "beat someone to death" is the answer, but it's not easy to come up with something constructive.

  18. Richard M. Nixon Says:

    In America, it is always depressingly about race. Everything. From the pilgrims to the tea party, it's always about white privelege.