Chin Murder Trials Reenactors Seek to Start Dialogue

On June 23, 1982, Vincent Chin was brutally beaten by Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz with a baseball bat. Four days later, his head cracked open from the assault, Chin died. For their crime, the state of Michigan sentenced Ebens and Nitz to three years’ probation and a $3000 file. The sentencing judge said that “these weren’t the kind of men you send to jail.” A federal prosecution had no more success against the two men.

This Saturday, February 4, students, faculty, and a federal judge will be reenacting the trials for an open audience.

The free reenactment starts at 4 p.m. in Milstein East in Wasserstein Hall. Professors Michael Klarman and Mark Wu, Judge Denny Chin of the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Dean of Students Marcia Sells, and over a dozen students will perform roles of the lawyers, judges, and other individuals in the trials.

“The Chin trials and the fact that the perpetrators got off so lightly served as a wake-up call for me and many members of my generation to ask if equal justice had really been achieved,” said Wu. “I want to make sure the next generation is aware of it and the role it played.”

Organized by Harvard’s Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, the re-enactment is a part of their annual conference, with events throughout Saturday at the Law School.

“The Chin cases were a flashpoint for Asian American activism and pan-Asian understanding,” said 2L Cathi Choi, one of the organizers. Although a Chinese American, Vincent Chin is believed to have been killed because his killers perceived him as Japanese, a group whom his killers allegedly blamed for the loss of American manufacturing jobs.

The organizers hope that the re-enactment will bring more visibility to issues that affect Asian Americans, who are often absent from conversations on race at the Law School and in broader society.

“One of my friends had never even heard the phrase “Asian American” next to “civil rights,” said 2L Alice Wang. “I hope [the show] gives the viewers the opportunity to learn more about the Asian American community.”

Recognizing that the students’ conversations on race sometimes fall short of what even students expect from themselves, Sells said that the re-enactment and other Law School events give students an opportunity to have these conversations that may be even more difficult elsewhere. She added that that although often it can be “struggle” to make progress, “changes are happening.”

The organizers and participants noted, however, that the issues were not limited to the Asian American community, nor were their hopes for equality circumscribed by racial divisions.

“The arc of history bends toward fulfilling the ideal of equal justice for all,” Wu said. “We must play our part not just for our own communities, but for all communities.”

The Murder of Vincent Chin: A Trial Reenactment
Wasserstein Hall, Milstein East BC, 2nd Floor
1585 Massachusetts Avenue
February 4, 2017, 4:00 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.
Free and open to the public

Narrator 1 Judge Denny Chin
Narrator 2 Kathy Chin
Bruce Saperstein Mike Ye
Judge Kaufman Prof Michael Klarman
Ronald Ebens Seth Berliner
Theodore Merritt Prof Mark Wu
David Lawson Alice Wang
Judge Anna Digs Taylor Dean Marcia Sells
Racine Calwell Leilani Doktor
Jimmy Choi Peter Im
Frank Eaman Cathi Choi
Court Clerk Amanda Chan
Jury Foreman David Azcarraga
Judge Engel Ally Chiu
Liza Chan Yih-Hsien Shen
Gary Koivu Marco Castanos
Robert Sirosky Ming Cheung
Organizers Felicia Chen

Cathi Choi

Liz Gyori

Jane Jeong

Alice Wang

Sylvia Zhang

Jim An is the editor-in-chief of The Harvard Law Record and a member of the Harvard Law School Class of 2018.

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