Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Asian American, was beaten with a baseball bat in Detroit in 1982, at a time when anti-Asian sentiment was on the rise. One witness said the attack, which began at a bar where Chin was celebrating his recent engagement, looked “as if a baseball player was swinging for a home run.” He died of his injuries several days later. Despite the brutality, Chin’s assailants never spent a day in jail for his death. Family members and other allies pressured the Justice Department to prosecute the attackers for violating Chin’s civil rights. At a federal trial, a jury found one defendant guilty, and he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. But on appeal, that man went free. Even though the case ended in an acquittal, it set a precedent that racially motivated attacks against Asian Americans could be prosecuted as hate crimes, and new legislation soon followed.
The Crime That Fueled an Asian American Civil Rights Movement
The 1982 attack against Vincent Chin redefined hate crimes and energized a push for today’s stronger legal protections. (Mural by Anthony Lee.)
We explore the legacy of Vincent Chin, whose killing in 1982 set the stage for stronger hate crime legislation.
Chin, a 27-year-old Asian American, was beaten with a baseball bat in Detroit, at a time when anti-Asian sentiment was on the rise. One witness said the attack, which began at a bar where Chin was celebrating his recent engagement, looked “as if a baseball player was swinging for a home run.” He died of his injuries several days later.
Despite the brutality of the attack, Chin’s assailants never spent a day in jail for the death. Family members and other allies pressured the Justice Department to prosecute the attackers for violating his civil rights. In a federal trial, a jury found one defendant guilty, and he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. But on appeal, that man went free.
“It was a moment of total outrage, total shock,” Helen Zia, an Asian American activist, told Retro Report. “How could this be? You beat a man to death and you get probation?”
Even though the case ended with an acquittal, it set a precedent that racially motivated attacks against Asian Americans could be prosecuted as hate crimes, and new legislation soon followed. Over time, federal hate crime law was expanded to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.
“It’s important to prosecute hate crimes because we need accountability,” said Stanley Mark, senior staff attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a civil rights organization. “This kind of conduct, particularly the motivation behind it, feeds into this climate of hate and fear.”
This week marked the launch of the Vincent Chin Institute, a national network of activists working to fight anti-Asian hate. The institute was founded by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Zia, who is the executor of the estate of Vincent and Lily Chin.
“Today’s pandemic of anti-Asian hate has uncanny parallels to the anti-Asian hate of the 1980s,” Zia said in a statement. “Vincent Chin’s legacy will continue to advance the ideals of equal justice; solidarity against racism and hate that Lily Chin courageously stood for; and respect for the individuals and communities who stood together for justice for Vincent Chin.”
This film contains archival footage that originally appeared in “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” the 1987 film directed by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima-Pena that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
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- Producer/Narrator: Joseph Hogan
- Editor: Brian Kamerzel
Students will learn about the case that set the precedent for racially motivated attacks against Asian Americans being prosecuted as hate crimes.
- Examine the impact of Vincent Chin’s death on the Asian American community, and understand how it led to advocacy and action.
- Define hate crime and explore legislation that addresses hate crimes.
- Evaluate federal and state hate crime policies and data.
- What are hate crimes? How have government policies regulating hate crimes changed over time and in different locations?
- How did the killing of Vincent Chin serve as a catalyst for Asian American civil rights?
- Transcript for “The Crime That Fueled an Asian American Civil Rights Movement” (Retro Report)
- Learn About Hate Crimes (U.S. Department of Justice)
- Hate Crimes: Laws and Policies (U.S. Department of Justice)
- Hate Crimes: State Specific Information (U.S. Department of Justice)
- Text of the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990 (Congress.gov)
- Text of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (Cornell Law School)
- Common Core State Standards
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1:Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2:Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.4:Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.7:Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.9:Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.
- National Council for the Social Studies C3 Framework
- D1.4.9-12.Explain how supporting questions contribute to an inquiry and how, through engaging source work, new compelling and supporting questions emerge.
- D1.5.9-12.Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration multiple points of view represented in the sources, the types of sources available, and the potential uses of the sources.
- D2.Civ.1.9-12.Distinguish the powers and responsibilities of local, state, tribal, national, and international civic and political institutions.
- D2.Civ.2.9-12.Analyze the role of citizens in the U.S. political system, with attention to various theories of democracy, changes in Americans’ participation over time, and alternative models from other countries, past and present.
- D2.Civ.5.9-12.Evaluate citizens’ and institutions’ effectiveness in addressing social and political problems at the local, state, tribal, national, and/or international level.
- D2.Civ.10.9-12.Analyze the impact and the appropriate roles of personal interests and perspectives on the application of civic virtues, democratic principles, constitutional rights, and human rights.
- D2.Civ.13.9-12.Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.
- D2.Civ.14.9-12.Analyze historical, contemporary, and emerging means of changing societies, promoting the common good, and protecting rights.
- D2.His.3.9-12.Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context.
- D2.His.5.9-12.Analyze how historical contexts shaped and continue to shape people’s perspectives.
Students will identify key concepts and definitions related to hate crimes.
- Identify key concepts and definitions related to hate crimes
- Discuss emotional responses after viewing the video by identifying words and images that evoked strong personal reaction
- Analyze how specific individuals in the video contributed to current laws and activism
- Write letters to the editor based on specific details from the video
- Share their letters with an audience as a means of offering potential solutions to a community issue
- What is the role of empathy in creating a compassionate, respectful community?
- How do words affect people’s actions and reactions?
- How can I respond in a productive way to someone’s experience of prejudice and discrimination?
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6-12: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6-12: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W. 6-12: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W. 6-12: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W. 6-12: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
- D3.3.6-8. Identify evidence that draws information from multiple sources to support claims, noting evidentiary limitations
- D4.1.6-8. Construct arguments using claims and evidence from multiple sources, while acknowledging the strengths and limitations of the arguments.
- D4.1.9-12. Construct arguments using precise and knowledgeable claims, with evidence from multiple sources, while acknowledging counterclaims and evidentiary weaknesses.
- D4.4.6-8. Critique arguments for credibility.
- D4.4.9-12. Critique the use of claims and evidence in arguments for credibility.