The University Record, February 4, 2002

Hate Crime Symposium addresses South Asian concerns

By Dana Ondrei Fair
News and Information Services

It’s been nearly 20 years since Vincent Chin, then a 27-year-old Chinese-American, went into a Detroit bar to celebrate his upcoming wedding with friends. While there, two white autoworkers taunted Chin and his friends, mistaking them for being Japanese and accusing them of stealing their jobs. When a fight ensued, the manager evicted both groups. Once outside, the autoworkers chased and cornered Chin, ultimately bludgeoning him with a baseball bat. Before losing consciousness, Chin said to a friend, “It isn’t fair.” Four days later, he died.

Several hundred people, originally invited to Chin’s wedding, attended his funeral.

The courts sentenced the two autoworkers to three years probation and fined each of them $3,780. Both paid their debt in monthly installments of $125. Despite appeals by the prosecution, neither man spent a day in jail. Outraged by the ordeal, Chin’s mother, Lily, returned to China.

A week of 2002 Hate Crime Symposium events commemorating Chin’s death began Jan. 28 with featured speaker Debasish Mishra, a board member of the South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow (SAALT), a national nonprofit organization that fosters leadership and civic engagement among South Asian Americans.

“Sept. 11 represents a turning point in our nation,” says Mishra. “It represents one of the greatest threats to civil liberties.” Since the tragedy, hate crimes against Arabs, South Asians, Muslims and Sikhs have skyrocketed, says Mishra. SAALT documented 645 incidents of backlash in the first week after the terrorist attacks. Of the crimes, four resulted in death, and three of the four dead were South Asian.

According to Mishra, South Asians tend to underreport hate crimes because of cultural and language barriers and, for some, a history of poor treatment in their previous countries. To aggravate the problem, when taking reports from those brave enough to come forward, police officers often leave out the racial component. Tracking the problem without this data is difficult.

“The Asian community wasn’t really prepared to deal with the onslaught of hate crimes following Sept. 11,” says Mishra, referring to racial profiling by the U.S. government, FBI, national security agents and various airline employees. Innocent Americans are being subjected to poor treatment and many immigrants have been put into Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detention. Before September, INS detention was not pleasant, but families and friends could maintain contact with loved ones. Contact today is non-existent, Mishra says.

Many Arabs have been deported for minor immigration violations. Traditionally, the U.S. Government has policed civil rights. “We can no longer trust the government to do so,” Mishra says.

Those attending Mishra’s Jan. 28 presentation screened a documentary film, “Raising Our Voices: South Asians Address Hate.” The video—released nationally—will be distributed to community-based organizations around the nation as part of SAALT’s efforts to educate about the challenges facing South Asians. More information about SAALT and the video is available at