All posts by Amok

Can we all get along? Recalling injustice from Rodney King to Vincent Chin (with new info on the man who beat Chin to death, Ronald Ebens)

 (Originally posted on the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund blog)

Call it a cosmic coincidence that Rodney King–a victim of the most infamous police beating caught on video tape–died on Sunday. His death comes just a few months after the 20th anniversary of one of the main outcomes of his case–the six-day people’s uprising in Los Angeles, one the worst race riots in U.S. history. King’s death is also just days before the 30th anniversary of the horrific beating death of Asian American Vincent Chin.

That’s a lot of social injustice to recall in one paragraph, let alone one week.

Bad enough that some still ask Vincent Who? Perhaps more distressing is how many people, both young and old, are beginning to ask Rodney Who?

It was before Twitter. Pre-iPhone. Pre-UFC levels of violence. March 3,1991. VHS times. The police were attempting to stop King who had been driving on an LA freeway. A high-speed chase ensued. When he got out of his car, King resisted arrest. The officers used a stun gun and then wailed away with their batons until a bloodied King was left with multiple fractures. Seeing the video again in news reports, I had forgotten the level of brutality used. The video allowed everyone to witness how people of color, but blacks in particular, could be dealt with by law enforcement.

So damning was the video that when the four officers, Sgt. Stacey Koon, Theodore Briseno, Timothy Wind, and Laurence Powell, were acquitted a year later of the state’s charges, the outrage was such that six days of rioting ensued. King would come forward and publicly utter, “Can we all get along?” But the violence and looting even turned against innocent Asian Americans, when Korean Americans were forced to take arms to defend their stores and businesses.

Koon and Powell were ultimately convicted of federal civil rights charges and served more than two years in prison. King did receive a $3.8 million dollar payout from the city of Los Angeles and its police department. But money isn’t everything, as King found out. Nothing can alleviate the sadness and pain brought on by the revelatory videotape of King’s beating.

Nothing short of a transformation of law enforcement and society.

But can anyone honestly say of the King incident that it could never happen again?


If only the Vincent Chin beating had the benefit of video, maybe the anniversary date of his brutal killing this week wouldn’t be so sad. At least in King’s case, the video led to two officers imprisoned and a multi-million dollar civil case settlement.

In the Chin matter, no one served any time. Nor was there a penny paid out to Chin’s surviving family.

Those facts always stun any audience that hears a simple re-telling of the case. It always elicits people’s stunned gasps.

But the Chin case didn’t involve police, just normal citizens.

On June 19, 1982, Ronald Madis Ebens, a then 42-year-old white Chrysler autoworker, along  with his stepson accomplice Michael Nitz, then 23, took a baseball bat and bludgeoned Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese American, to death on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park, a suburb of Detroit.

The crisis actually began in the Fancy Pants strip club where Chin was attending his own bachelor party. Ebens and Nitz were there as patrons and commented on Chin and his friends. Ebens reportedly told a stripper, “Don’t pay any attention to those little fuckers, they wouldn’t know a good dancer if they’d seen one.”

Ebens claimed Chin then threw a punch at him. But another witness testified that Ebens got up and said, “It’s because of you little motherfuckers that we’re out of work.”  

They saw Chin, a Chinese American, and thought he was Japanese.

Chin and his friends prevailed inside the club and then left. Ebens, bloodied, left with Nitz, retrieved a baseball bat and continued pursuing Chin. They found Chin in a McDonald’s parking lot.

Some witnesses say Nitz held down Chin. Some say he didn’t. Everyone says he was there and did nothing to stop Ebens, who ferociously struck and beat Chin repeatedly, with two savage blows with a baseball bat to the head, leaving Chin unconscious.

For their admitted role in Chin’s death, they served no time.

Ebens is now 72. His accomplice Nitz is 53.   

Ebens and Nitz were allowed to plea bargain in a Michigan court to escape mandatory jail time for second degree murder.  Ebens pleaded guilty; Nitz pleaded nolo contendere. Both men got this sentence: three years’ probation, a $3,000 fine, and $780 in court costs.

While three-strike felons are doing life in California for non-violent crimes, Ebens, who has admitted to his role in the killing of Chin, is living a life in the sunshine. I actually found him far from the Detroit area. He’s remarried and lives in Nevada.

He’s lucky that he’s generally far less remembered than Vincent Chin himself, because how Ebens got justice only adds salt to the wound.

By plea bargaining in the original case, Ebens’ sentencing hearing was seen as little more than a formality. No one representing Chin was notified or even showed up. So no one could object when the judge unexpectedly granted both Ebens and Nitz 3 years’ probation.

The light sentence set off such a response that a second trial, on civil rights charges in federal district court, was inevitable. But it was an angry, strident affair with a conclusion to match. Nitz was acquitted, but Ebens was convicted to 25 years in prison.

Ebens always called the federal trial a “frame-up” and appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for a new trial. That court saw the failure to change venues and the coaching of witnesses by a community activist as reason enough for a new trial.

At that point, the new case was put in Cincinnati, Ohio, far removed from Detroit, its media, the auto industry, and five years after the night of the attack. It was advantage Ebens, who on May 2, 1987 was found not guilty on the federal civil rights charges.

Wrote the Associated Press, Ebens “broke into tears at the verdict.”

“I’m still very sorry about the death that occurred, but I’m very relieved it is over after four years,” he said back then.

Thirty years later, sorry still isn’t enough. We mourn an anniversary, but celebrate little change.  

As in the King case, do we really believe another Vincent Chin couldn’t happen again?

The anniversary also comes at a time when Asian Americans seem to lose sight of what brings our disparate group of ethnicities together in America. On issues like affirmative action, the political umbrella under which we stand can at times seem shaky and frayed.

Vincent Chin reminds us that more often than not, our community has a common face.

(See also my post on the 29th Anniversary, where I attempted numerous times by phone to contact Ronald Ebens. He never answered).

This week, Ebens finally answered an interview request by the Detroit News

On Chin’s murder, Ebens said “it was an unfortunate incident and should never have happened.”  

Somehow Ebens saying he’s “sorry it happened,”  still doesn’t seem to add up to justice.


One guy’s response to HBO’s “Girls” finale

A friend of mine said she was let down by the series “finale” of HBO’s “Girls.”

I was too.

So many missed opportunities to insert a little color into the much criticized show. 

To date, I’ve stayed out of the “Where’s the diversity?” debate in “Girls” because I’m a late comer to the program.

Generally, I do find it smarter than most TV fare, so I’m more inclined to like than dislike the show.

But the “Girls”  has a diversity quotient of zero. Can any version of New York, even on television,  be so insular in these modern times that there are no  black, Latino or Asian folks to support even a thin story thread?  Network TV’s “New Girl” or “Broke Girls” all  have a lot more  color. Is premium cable the place to say to hell with all that?

If  FB’s Zuckerberg marries an Asian American woman  in real life, you’d think  we couldn’t see an Asian somewhere in that surprise wedding party finale. But no, not even an extra.  How about as the wedding  photographer? A waiter? (I know they can’t let a forlorn but horny Marnie start kissing some person of color at wedding’s end.  But why sic her on the self-effacing schlimazal for a little mercy tongue.)

What’s distressing is if this is the reality of young 20-somethings’ lives, then their lives are merely a modern update of the plain old segregation we had in the past.  It’s so retro. And it’s all brought to you by trendy whites who apparently see diversity as a matter of taste, and not an urgent sense of social justice.

In a response to a question about people of color, Writer/director Lena Dunham admitted in the NY Times recently , “I have to write people who feel honest but also push our cultural ball forward.”

Too bad her segregated characters certainly are pushing the cultural ball backwards.

I guess the creators of “Girls”  have  bigger “real life” problems to tackle.  Like getting a job. Finding a boyfriend.  A white one. (Did they ever think they’d improve their chances in the mating game if they sought out non-whites?)

I hope that in this Judd Apatow production, the Ken Leong image in the Hangover movies didn’t hurt Asian guys.

Still,  this show has a problem with guys, all around.

On the finale, the once indifferent Adam shows his softside at the wedding and exposes the utter self-absorption of Hannah. She can’t accept that Adam is falling for her. How unromantic of her? But what’s his reward for showing vulnerability? Hannah connects with a one time partner now gay, with whom she shares an STD to be her roommate instead.  How sweet. Gays are well represented in “Girls.”  (He’s white, but don’t the writer’s know the gay friend in chick flicks is always the opportunity for the modern double minority, the gay-black or gay-Asian guy?)

Back to straight, vulnerable Adam. I get his rage totally. But the girls on “Girls” don’t get it.

Adam gets run over,and the girls would rather sit quietly alone on the beach eating wedding cake.

It’s a good thing I’m not 20-something anymore.

This show would have cured me of white girls.

Matt Cain was great, but my dad and I had our own perfect SF Giants game just before Father’s Day, 1978

I had tickets for Wednesday night, but my cousin and nephew used them. Just my luck to miss history.

I was always planning to go today, Thursday, June 14th. It’s a day game and matched the circumstances of a game  I attended with my dad in 1978.

That day was far from perfect.

But the baseball, and all that baseball can do for a father and son was perfect.

On top of that, the Giants won. What more could I ask for?  

And then life ended. No need for extra innings.

My dad went out a winner.

Affirmative action, Timothy Bradley,Jr., and the suckerpunch heard round the world

It’s funny what people have reacted to in my post-fight  post on the Pacquiao/Bradley fight on

I said that the outrageously bogus decision in favor of Bradley could have been “boxing’s affirmative action.”

I found the notion funny.

To me it’s as clear as “why did the chicken cross the road?”

But for those who don’t share my sense of humor, allow me to explain. 

Tim Bradley did not deserve to win.  The judges inexplicably gave him the fight. This is not good.

The standard anti-affirmative action stance is that affirmative action is often thought to benefit the undeserving.  Bradley certainly was undeserving.

If you didn’t get the joke, the joke was on you.

When I support affirmative action it is always about making sure the underserved and underrepresented get a fair chance. But recipients have to be qualified on the merits. They have to be truly deserving.  That’s always been the true intent of affirmative action.

By using the phrase in my boxing post, I was mocking the traditional sense of affirmative action used by anti-affirmative action folks.

How else could Bradley be given the championship? It wasn’t because of his great skill to punch air and miss Pacquiao. The stuff of champions? No.

Another reader suggested that I was anti-black and  showed I was OK with affirmative action for me, but not for thee.

Once again, my stand in favor of affirmative action in some people’s mind favors  blacks and Latinos and hurts Asian Americans. So any criticisim of me on that point makes no sense.

So now that’s cleared up, there’s still this small matter of who won that damn fight.

Glad to see other fighters like Andre Ward chime in that Bradley should give back the belt. That would be interesting.

Won’t happen.

With their bad decision, the judges are simply reminding us that this is part of the “joy” of boxing–the post-ring debate.

And it goes on because the absolute “truth” can’t really be had unless one fighter can’t answer the bell.

You want certainty, knock the guy out. Until then, if you’ve got eyes, you’ve got an opinion. Box on.

Those who prefer logic bring up Pacquaio’s last fight with Juan Manuel Marquez and say Marquez should have won that.  They call the Bradley fight “karma.” B.S. The Marquez fights were actually close, and could have gone either way. 

The Pacquiao Bradley fight was not 115-113 close, and certainly not in Bradley’s favor.

In fact, many of the conspiracy theories out there now figure Arum needed to pump up Bradley’s credibility to keep his cash cow Pacquiao boxing until the guy everyone really wants to see Pacquiao fight –Floyd Mayweather, Jr.–gets out of jail. Do we really want to see a Pacquaio Marquez IV?  Or do we want to see “Manny’s Revenge”?  Arum has a need to keep things interesting. He owns a piece of all the boxers. Conflict of interest is just part of the professional game, which is as close to a monopoly as it gets. The state of boxing smells. And if it didn’t bother us enough before last weekend, maybe we just got used to the smell.

Still, some of us more interested in the sport of boxing try to keep the “sweet science” separate from boxing’s bitter, venal world that commingles high-stakes  business and gambling.

This weekend’s suckerpunch was our wake-up call. It can’t be done.

The only thing we can do is act as consumers. Pay-per-view? Not with my hard earned dough.

Also see my pre-fight column where I question if Pacquiao has the desire to fight any longer.  His post-fight demeanor has been very “Love they neighbor.”  Maybe religion is his calling. Or maybe he figures the “lost brain cell to earned dollar” ratio in boxing is still in his favor. He can roll in the cash until early dementia sets in. He can quit, stay healthy or fight me.

And I know he won’t fight me now,  because he knows I can beat him. 

I just need the right judges.