By Mabel Teng. Posted June 18, 2022.
On June 23 four decades ago, Vincent Chin died a brutal death at the hands of two white men. What lessons have we learned and where do we go from here?
“The legacy of Vincent Chin and the campaign for justice offers lessons to all on how people of all races, including between Asian and Black Americans, and from all creeds and walks of life, can organize and come together to stand against intolerance of all kinds to build a beloved community that is safe and welcoming to all.”
“Today’s pandemic and anti-Asian hate has uncanny parallels to the anti-Asian hate of the 1980’s. American Citizens for Justice’s (ACJ) founding principles are an important part of Vincent’s legacy: our movement’s commitment to equal justice for all and a stand against racism and discrimination of any kind”. “As Vincent’s mother, Lily, said on national television, ‘Our skin color may be different, but our blood is the same’”. (Statement On Behalf Of The Vincent And Lily Chin Estate, quoted from Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance & Rededication.) Led by The Chin Estate, American Citizens for Justice and the Planning Committee, Vincent Chin 40th Remembrance & Rededication convening is expected to unite justice leaders from across the country from June 16-19 in Detroit.
The 1982 horrific and hateful killing of Vincent Chin by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz, and the subsequent sentencing by Judge Kaufman for the two killers to three years’ probation and $3000 in fines awakened, and galvanized Asian Americans into action. The justice for Vincent Chin work sparked the contemporary Asian American civil rights movement, which swept a seawave of activists to dedicate themselves to champion for multi-racial democracy. America built a new consciousness as this generation of 80’s activists ran for elected office, built multi racial coalitions, became leaders in community-building, labor, civil rights, immigrant rights, women, LGBTQ, environmental justice and world peace.
I was among this new generation whose life was forever changed. I worked with, learned from, mentored by, and fought side by side with many whom I consider lifelong friends. Four decades after the killing of Vincent Chin, it is more relevant than ever to recall the lessons and inspiration sparked by the Vincent Chin movement, work with the Rev Jesse Jackson, Black Movement and the Rainbow Coalition. I humbly offer my personal reflections.
Rev Jackson and Justice for Vincent Chin
In 1983, Rev Jackson was among the first national leaders and an American presidential candidate to support the Justice for Vincent Chin movement. He came to Cameron House in an historic gathering to meet Mrs. Lily Chin and they instantly connected. Rev Jackson drew the parallel about the story of Emmett Till, a 14-year old black teenager accused of whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi in 1955.
Till was later abducted, tortured and murdered by a group of white men. At their trial, the jury was out for only 30 minutes and found the white killers not guilty. Someone asked the jury, “why so short?” and they said, “well it would have been shorter except we stopped for a cigarette and a soft drink.” The jury couldn’t imagine sending a white person to jail for killing a black teenager. The woman who accused Emmett Till confessed before she died that she lied about the assault. It never happened.
Rev Jackson drew the parallel, that “they” couldn’t imagine sending white people to jail for killing blacks or Asians. In the Chin case, Judge Charles Kaufman handed out a sentence of 3-year probation and a small fine saying, “These weren’t the kind of men you send to jail…”. There was no justice then, there is no justice today. Emmett Till triggered the Black movement in the South and gave birth to the Black Power Movement. Similarly, Vincent Chin’s murder triggered the contemporary Asian Civil Rights movement.
Asian and Black Solidarity
When Jesse Jackson announced his candidacy for President in 1983, a whole new level of mobilization arose among Asian Americans in solidarity with the African American-led effort for greater impact. Movement activists and organizations in California such as the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA) in San Francisco and Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization (LTPRO) in Los Angeles were the foundation for Asian activism in the Jackson campaign.
Along with Butch Wing, Eddie Wong, and Evelyn Yoshimura, and Mike Murase, I had the honor to be one of the founders of Asian Americans for Jesse Jackson in 1984. In 1988 I served as the California co-chair of the Jesse Jackson campaign, worked alongside and learned from Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Cindy Ng served as the co-chair of the New York State Rainbow Coalition and later speech writer for New York Mayor David Dinkins. May Louie was chairperson of the Boston Rainbow Coalition, then chief of staff of the National Rainbow Coalition. Mike Murase served as California Campaign Director, later as Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ District Director.
For the next two decades, we worked with the African American communities and Black churches. Eddie Wong and Butch Wing continued to staff Jesse Jackson and Rainbow/PUSH until Butch’s recent retirement. I was among those who ran for office to be a voice for bridge building and grassroot empowerment.