Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Remembering Vincent Chin: 31 years

When Vincent Chin was murdered 32 years ago in 1982 in suburban Detroit, his killers never served a day in prison. They paid only a fine of $3,000. They called him a "Jap," caving his skull in with baseball bats on June 19th. The scant punishment implied a license to kill Asians. But it ignited a movement that continues to resonate to this day.

I just wish we didn't have so many cases in the time since. In an old op-ed of mine I'd written for the Pioneer Press back in 2006, I'd noted:
In 1998, a 13-year-old Hmong girl, Panhia Lor, was gang-raped, beaten and murdered, her battered corpse left to rot in a Minnesota park like a pile of trash. Her killers called her "gook" and "chink" as they raped her. We were told it was not a hate crime. It was not a racist act.

In 2001, Thung Phetakoune, a 62-year-old veteran from Laos, died after Richard Labbe cracked Thung's skull open on the sidewalks of New Hampshire. Labbe told police, "What's going on is that those Asians killed Americans and you won't do anything about it, so I will. Call it payback." Phetakoune risked his life for Americans stationed in Laos. Trying to rebuild his life, this is how it ended.

In January 2005, 36-year-old Tou Yang, a father of three, was shot at home by the Milwaukee police seven times, including three times in the head because the police could not find a nonviolent resolution, like tear gas or a stun gun. Tou Yang's case was eerily similar to that of Tong Kue, another 36-year-old Hmong man. He was shot at home in Detroit in June, 1998 by police.
Filmmaker Gode Davis, researching "American Lynching: Strange and Bitter Fruit," estimates as many as 200 Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos died from American lynchings, yet we never confront this.
In the time since, we still see so many additional tragic cases, but even worse, we see situations brewing in institutions like our public schools, and yet so little meaningful action is taken. We press on, and we have to find a way to balance memory with hope.

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