The Invisible Justice: From Vincent Chin to Peter Liang

Vincent Chin (1955-1982), a Chinese American man from Michigan, was severely beaten by two white men on the night of June 19, 1982. He died four days later.

The incident, allegedly started out as a quarrel in a bar, escalated when one of the assailants made racial comments on Chin. But it was 30 minutes after both parties were thrown out of the bar that it got physical. The two assailants caught up with Chin in a McDonald’s after paying another person $20 for the information on Chin’s whereabouts. Both men were charged with murder after Chin’s death.


”It’s not fair”, Chin’s last words before collapsing into a coma on the night of the attack, became his last words on earth. His assailants initially plead guilty to manslaughter and were given only three years probations and small fines. When facing protests against such a sentence, Judge Charles Kaufman responded, “These weren’t the kind of men you send to jail.” In following federal civil right cases against the two men, which were based on the notion that the attack was motivated by racial factors, both were acquitted.

In November 2014, Peter Liang, a rookie cop of less than 18 months with the NYPD, accidentally discharged his firearm while doing a routine patrol inside the stairwell of a housing project. The bullet ricocheted off the wall, hitting a young man in the chest. He died within minutes.


Liang was charged with manslaughter after the incident and found guilty in 2016. He was sentenced to a five-year probation and 800 hours in community service. Ever since the incident, Chinese American communities across the country have rallied in support of Liang. Most criticized NYPD for lack of support on Liang’s training as well as his legal procedure. Notably many white police officers involved in fatal shooting around same time have avoided prosecution all together.

Again the notion of fairness and justice become central argument in Chinese Americans’ support of Peter Liang. Many within the community believe that Liang is subjected to unfair treatment from the Police Department and the media, and that he was served as a scapegoat by NYPD because of his ethnic background. Media responses after the incident also discredited Liang with false reports on his conduct at the time of the incident.


Both Vincent Chin’s and Peter Liang’s case generated public attention to the condition of Asian Americans within the social hierarchy in the United States. Although the incidents involved in the two cases are different in many ways, both cases ignited Chinese Americans’ effort on bringing attention to the injustice that the community has suffered since the beginning of Chinese immigration to the U.S., yet largely not acknowledged by the struggle for social justice.


The significance of such large scale movement from Chinese American community is to voice the Chinese American struggle against institutionalized discrimination and alienation specifically targeting the community by destructing the myth of “model minority”. Both Chin and Liang were raised in working-class Chinese American families. Yet the condition of these people is often overlooked by many who consumed the false image of a completely gentrified Chinese American community that is “privileged” and “over-represented” in social hierarchy. Just like Karlin Chan, a community organizer in New York said, “It’s a history of persecution, that’s rendered invisible by the belief that Asian Americans are uniformly high achieving and affluent — model minorities.”[1]

[1] Los Angeles Times, Why this cop’s conviction brought thousands of Asian Americans into New York’s streets.