Vincent Chin Incident/Fancy Pants Lounge

13843 Woodward in Highland Park, Michigan


At this show bar on June 19, 1982, Vincent Chin—a young Chinese man employed to do engineering drawings—and his associates were enjoying a bachelor party celebrating his forthcoming marriage. A dancer—Sharlene—was performing for Chin and his friends, but then left to dance for Ronald Ebens and his stepson, Michael Nitz. Ebens was employed as a foreman at the nearby Chrysler Plant and Nitz had been recently laid off from his assembly-line job. With the dancer performing in front of him, Ebens apparently looked at Chin and made some insulting remark. At some point, Vincent Chin and his associates began to fight with Ebens and Nitz. It is unclear who struck the first blow, but the fight continued with punches and chairs raised in hostility. Ronald Ebens assumed that Chin was of Japanese descent and blamed the Japanese for the unemployment of American workers. The fight escalated, the bartenders threw all of the combatants out.

What happened next is unclear. Perhaps the fight continued in a parking lot but at some point, Vincent Chin and his friends left. Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz lost them and spent 20 or 30 minutes trying to find them. Ebens even paid someone to help locate Vincent Chin and his friends. Vincent Chin was found in a nearby McDonalds restaurant. At this point, Ronald Ebens went to his car, took out a baseball bat and beat Vincent Chin so severely that he went into a coma and died four days later. Two off-duty police officers witnessed this beating so the police quickly arrested Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz.

Ebens was brought to trial in 1983, but the prosecutor and the Judge Charles Kaufman of the Recorder's Court accepted a plea of manslaughter. Judge Kaufman said from the bench that Chin's death was not a brutal one, but was rather the more or less accidental result of Eben's attempting to even the score in a barroom fight. He stated that Ebens did not deserve jail time, so he imposed a $3,000 fine and put Ebens on probation for three years. No prosecutor appeared at the trial to challenge Judge Kaufman's leniency and the Chin family was not contacted.

At this point Chinese-Americans activists across the country defined this as a very important civil rights issue. This became an important consciousness-raising event for the emerging Chinese American civil rights movement. In their view, the American justice system did not take the brutal, bloody and very deliberate beating of a young Chinese man as a serious matter. As they saw it, Michigan's justice system trivialized the life of a Chinese American.

Responding to nation-wide pressures, the federal Justice Department moved in and, in 1984, tried Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz for conspiracy and for violating the civil rights of Vincent Chin. A federal jury in Detroit convicted the defendants and Ebens was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison and fined $20,000. However, he immediately appealed and remained free on bond. His appeal was upheld in 1986 since the Circuit Court ruled that Chinese-American activists had inappropriately coached witnesses.

Seeking a conviction, the Justice Department moved the second trial to Cincinnati. They tried diligently to convict Ebens and Nitz, but the ecdysiast repeated that Ebens had said to Chin: "It is because of little motherfuckers like you that we are out of work". She reported that Ebens never used a racially derogative term. Thus the jury failed to convict the defendants of conspiracy or abridgement of civil rights on the basis of race. Later in 1987, in a civil suit in Michigan, Ronald Ebens was found culpable for the wrongful death of Vincent Chin and ordered to pay 1.5 million dollars. He liquidated his assets and moved away having never served a day in jail for killing Vincent Chin.

This event is still a very important and frequently emphasized one in the Chinese-American civil rights movement. A commemorative event was held at this location in June, 2002.

Architect for Theater: Unknown
Date of Construction: 1920s
Use in 2003: Abandoned and now derelict theater


File: "Who Killed Vincent Chin?" by Christine Choy and Renee Tajima and distributed by Filmmaker Library. This documentary was nominated for an Academy Award in 1989.

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