Vincent Chin coronavirus
Vincent Chin

In 1982 Vincent Chin was murdered in the United States for being Chinese. The below is a summary of his story — taken from Wikipedia:

Vincent Jen Chin (May 18, 1955 – June 23, 1982) was a Chinese-American draftsman who was beaten to death by two white men, Chrysler plant supervisor Ronald Ebens and his stepson, laid-off autoworker Michael Nitz.

Ebens and Nitz assailed Chin following a brawl that took place at a bar in Highland Park, Michigan, where Chin had been celebrating his bachelor party with friends in advance of his upcoming wedding. They apparently assumed Chin was of Japanese descent, and are alleged to have used racial slurs as they attacked him. Ebens and Nitz blamed him for the success of Japan’s auto industry, despite the fact that Chin was of Chinese descent.

At the time, Metro Detroit was a powder keg of racial animosity toward Asian-Americans, specifically as the penetration of Japanese automotive imports in the U.S. domestic market hastened the decline of Detroit’s Big Three. Resentful workers laid the blame for recent layoffs on Japanese competition.

Chin was taken Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where a nurse told his childhood friend that “he has no chance” and that “his brain was dead.” He died of his injuries four days later.

Ebens and Nitz were charged with second-degree murder, but bargained the charges down to manslaughter and pleaded guilty in 1983. They were ordered to pay $3,000 and serve three years’ probation, with no jail time. While Ebens and Nitz never denied the brawl, they claimed the fight was not racially motivated and said they did not use racial epithets.

The lenient sentence led to a vocal outcry from Asian-Americans. The president of the Detroit Chinese Welfare Council said it amounted to a “$3,000 license to kill” Chinese Americans. As a result, the case has been viewed as a critical turning point for Asian-American civil rights engagement and a rallying cry for stronger federal hate crime legislation.

Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first person in the United States killed in “retaliation” for the September 11 terrorist attacks. The below is a summary of his story — also taken from Wikipedia:

Balbir Singh Sodhi (1949 – September 15, 2001), a Sikh-American gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona, was murdered in a hate crime in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. This was the first of several cases across the United States that were reported to the police as supposed acts of retaliation for the attacks. Balbir Singh Sodhi, who wore a beard and a turban in accordance with his Sikh faith, was profiled as an Arab Muslim and murdered by 42-year-old Frank Silva Roque, a Boeing aircraft mechanic at a local repair facility who held a criminal record for an attempted robbery in California. Roque had reportedly told friends that he was “going to go out and shoot some towel-heads” the day of the attacks. Roque was sentenced to death (commuted later to life imprisonment) for first degree murder.

Born in Punjab, India, Balbir Singh Sodhi was a member of the Sikh religion. He immigrated to the United States in 1989 and initially resided in Los Angeles, where he worked as a computer engineer and analyst at HP. He saved enough money to buy a gas station and several affiliated franchises in Phoenix, Arizona and moved there.

On September 11, 2001, members of al-Qaeda, a militant Islamist group, hijacked four airplanes and perpetrated the 9/11 attacks, killing 2,977 victims. According to family members, Sodhi had become distraught by the attacks.

On September 15, 2001, Roque took his Chevrolet S-10 from the Wild Hare sports bar in Mesa, where he had reportedly been ranting about immigrants, and drove to the Chevron gas station owned by Sodhi. Roque shot Sodhi five times from his truck with a .380 handgun, killing him. At the time of the shooting, Sodhi was helping landscaper Luis Ledesma plant flowers around the edge of his gas station.

Roque, who apparently wanted revenge for the 9/11 attacks, profiled him as an Arab Muslim because of the clothes he wore, his turban, and his beard. Roque then drove to a Mobil gas station 10 miles away. Twenty minutes after the first shooting, he shot at a Lebanese-American clerk from his truck, but missed. Roque then drove to his former residence, which had been purchased by a local Afghan family, and fired multiple rounds at the outside of the house. After fleeing the scene of the final shooting, Roque was reported to have gone to a local bar and boasted, “They’re investigating the murder of a turban-head down the street.”

The above two incidents are  instructive for right now. When I talk about these incidents, the initial response usually focuses on how stupid it was to mistakenly kill someone over the wrong ethnicity. I then will usually say, “I know,” and then I will say something like the following:

Those who perpetrated the crimes were incredibly stupid and evil on so many levels. Take Vincent Chin. The obvious thing is that he was Chinese and not Japanese so killing him for what people in Japan were doing makes no sense at all. But it would not have made any more sense to kill him if he had been Japanese and that is the point. Nothing about his killing makes any sense.

He grew up in the United States, attended elementary, junior high, high schools and technical college here and he was a draftsperson for a U.S. auto supplier at the time of his death. In other words, he was an American (not Chinese or Japanese) and he was working to help (not hurt) the Japanese auto industry. The odds this person in a Detroit bar had anything to do with Japan’s auto industry just because he looked Asian were incredibly slim. The killers stripped Chin of all individuality and essentially said, he’s Asian therefore he’s Japanese and therefore he is our enemy.

The same holds true for Singh. Let’s just cut right to the chase and assume he was a Muslim and not a Sikh. What are the odds that a Muslim pumping gas in Mesa, Arizona, four days after 9-11 had anything to do with 9-11? Astronomical. What even are the odds that the average Muslim in Arizona supported the 9-11 bombings? But none of this mattered to the killer who saw Singh as a Muslim and therefore responsible for 9-11.

These two incidents highlight the absurdity and the evil of holding every individual within a race or ethnic group responsible for whatever any other individual within that race or ethnic group may have done.

In his book, Between the World and Me, author Ta-Nehisi Coates writes to his (Black) son: “You must be responsible for the worst actions of other black bodies, which, somehow, will always be assigned to you.” This sort of stripping an entire group of people of the benefit of their individualty epitomizes racism. Saying all members of a racial or ethnic group think and act alike is racist and morally wrong and stupid. Blaming a Chinese person you see on the street for all that happens in China, including the coronavirus, is  racist and morally wrong and stupid. No esceptions

Seattle (where I am) is becoming the epicenter of the coronavirus in the U.S. and I am hearing from Chinese friends and colleagues who have been subjected to hostile looks and comments, typically centered around  the need for them to return to China.

I can understand those who are mad at the CCP for having initially quashed information about the coronavirus and thereby allowed it to spread. But those actions were done by CCP officials in China and holding any individual Chinese person responsible for that is  racist and morally wrong and stupid. No exceptions.

Way back in 2006, in China’s Culture Wars, I wrote how “anyone who thinks they know China and its 1.3 billion plus inhabitants from reading a few books is as misguided as those who think every Chinese guy knows kung fu.  And anyone who thinks reading a few books on Chinese culture gives them the measure of the individual Chinese person with whom they are dealing is mistaken. In the end, we must treat them as individuals.” No exceptions.

The coronavirus is the enemy and we human beings are its victims. Chinese, Iranian, American Italian, Korean, whatever. Words can have physical world consequences. Let’s all be careful about what we say and do as the coronavirus spreads.

What are you seeing out there?

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Photo of Dan Harris Dan Harris

Dan is a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network. 

Dan is a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network.  His work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

He was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), is rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (also its highest rating), and is a recognized SuperLawyer.

Dan is a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and constantly travels between the United States and Asia. He most commonly speaks on China law issues and is the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog. Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed Dan regarding various aspects of his international law practice.

Dan is licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at his firm, Dan focuses on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.