Coming to Detroit, one of the most striking trends I have noticed is how little the Asian population in the city is. As I and some other Asian DukeEngage students have half-jokingly discussed, “We probably doubled the Asian population in Detroit.” Curious about the situation that such a minority population would have to face, I chose to read a recent New York Times article, “Decades After Infamous Beating Death, Recent Attacks Haunt Asian Americans” by Mitch Smith.
The article stems from the 40th anniversary of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American man who was beaten to death with a baseball bat by two white autoworkers in 1982. The incident started from an argument that involved a racial motive according to the witness who overheard one of the attackers telling Mr. Chin, “it was ‘because of you’ that people like him were out of work.” Following Mr. Chin to McDonald’s at Woodward Avenue, the two attackers beat Mr. Chin to death in front of a crowd and even off-duty police officers. Because both persecutors insisted, they were not motivated by racial hate, they were sentenced to probation and about $3,000 fine—no prison time.
Smith connects this tragic incident to the current rise of anti-Asian hate crimes. Hate crimes in the 80s in Detroit like the death of Mr. Chin were due to the rise of cheap Japanese carmakers along with the decline of Detroit’s once glorious auto industry. Today, many Asian Americans express extreme anxiety and fear from the national rise of anti-Asian violence due to COVID and the China-U.S. trade war. Although there are no high-profile cases of hate crimes now in Detroit, I believe the same sentiments must exist. Because there is no center for the Asian community unlike in other major cities and the population is spread mostly in the suburbs and peripheries of Detroit, there is less chance for hate crimes to be planned and/or targeted. So, probability-wise, it is obvious that there are no high-profile cases. But because of the same exact reasons, it is more difficult for the very small and dispersed Asian population to feel united and raise their voices during this time of crisis.
"It’s worse now. It’s absolutely worse now than it was 40 years ago."
— James W. Shimoura (Detroit native lawyer who volunteered on Mr. Chin's case)
Unfortunately, I cannot stay in Detroit long enough to support this ostensibly unattended issue. My work also does not directly address it. However, I hope that working with Co.act and helping with creating a strong and effective support network of nonprofits will contribute to providing an environment where productive discussions around the issue of racial discrimination and hate crimes can flourish in Detroit.