Asian-Americans speak out against hate crimes, bullies

Posted: June 19, 2012

THIRTY YEARS ago, Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese-American, was beaten to death with a baseball bat by two Detroit autoworkers who thought he was Japanese and blamed him for the massive layoffs in the auto industry.

His death sparked protests across the nation and galvanized the modern Asian-American civil-rights movement. The two white autoworkers who killed him served no time in jail.

"It mobilized people to do something," Nina Ahmad, chairwoman of the Mayor's Commission on Asian American Affairs, said of Chin's death. "We have to continue mobilizing because the job is not done."

More recently, other tragedies have highlighted racism against people of Asian descent - the suicide last fall in Afghanistan of Army Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, of New York, who was allegedly hazed by his fellow soldiers, and the 2009 attacks on Asian students at South Philadelphia High School.

This Saturday, on the 30th anniversary of Chin's death, local and national Asian-American groups are holding a nationwide panel discussion on hate crimes and bullying. Two panelists are local - Wei Chen, who was a student leader at South Philly High in the aftermath of the 2009 attacks, and Mia-lia Kiernan, co-founder of the One Love Movement.

The public is invited to attend at the Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine St. Doors open at 1:30 p.m.; the discussion begins at 2 p.m.

Moderator Phil Yu, founder of the Angry Asian Man blog, and other panelists, including U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., will appear on a screen via Google+ Hangout.

Ahmad, who is also co-founder of the national Asian Pacific Americans for Progress, said that after the national forum, there will be a local discussion on Philadelphia-area issues. One topic that could come up is crimes against Asian merchants. "My gut says it's a hate crime," she said. "But I can't say it for a fact because I don't have the statistics," noting that merchants of other races have also been victimized.

On June 19, 1982, Chin's head was smashed with a bat by Ronald Ebens, a Chrysler supervisor, while Ebens' stepson, Michael Nitz, who had been laid off, held Chin, in Highland Park, just outside Detroit. Chin died four days later.

Contact Julie Shaw at 215-854-2592 or