Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

Building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center

Q&A with Roland Hwang

Monday, June 19th 2017

This week marks the 35th anniversary of Vincent Chin’s tragic beating and subsequent death. Asian Americans Advancing Justice commemorates this anniversary by sharing conversations with people who were involved with or were affected by Vincent Chin’s case.

Today’s conversation is with Roland Hwang, the Vice President of Asian American Center for Justice/American Citizens for Justice and Chapter President of OCA Detroit.

Although it has been 35 years since Vincent Chin’s murder – 16 years before I was even born – I have always known his name and his story. My father worked as a volunteer attorney for Vincent’s case and his civil rights work then has shaped who I am today.

My parents have always encouraged me and my brother to be immersed in the Asian American community and to fight for justice from the time we were little. But when I was younger, I didn’t fully understand the implications of this hate crime or Vincent’s last words: “It’s not fair.” It wasn’t until watching the movie “Who Killed Vincent Chin?” in the 6th grade when I realized the profound unfairness of his murder.

For the first time, I was aware of how the legal system and society failed to bring justice for both Vincent and the Asian American community. Seeing the faces of his unremorseful killer and his heartbroken mother revealed to me the brutality of the killing and the weight of racial prejudice. The lack of persecution for killing an Asian American man – the punishment a measly $3,000 and probation – made me question if my life was worth as much as a white man’s life. Though there have been many setbacks for the Asian American community, I have seen a determined and tenacious multi-ethnic Asian American movement form, become stronger, and rally together despite constant adversity.

My father’s civil rights work and his passion for fair and just treatment has fueled my own pursuit of social change and activism in the Asian American community. I, too, want to be an advocate for those who do not or cannot have a voice. I have been taught to not be silent, to speak up, and to articulate the need to bring awareness of injustices and to work with others to create solutions.

In the Q & A to follow, you’ll come to understand the commitment of my father and so many others who came before and after him in the Asian American community to stand up for the civil and human rights of all Americans.

- Aimee Hwang

 
What does the Vincent Chin case mean to you?

Well, it's one of a series of cases, but, personally speaking, that particular case caused me to veer from just the practice of law into an interest in the civil rights movement. And if the Vincent Chin case didn’t occur, I wouldn’t have been appointed as a civil rights hearing referee for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. We [American Citizens for Justice/Asian American Center for Justice] wouldn't've been organized as an organization -- it wouldn’t have been founded until the next event occurs. I’ve been appointed to the state advisory committee on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights now twice -- that wouldn't have occurred without getting involved in the civil rights movement and the Vincent Chin case was the catalyst. I'm sure that's true for a lot of people.

I was the first treasurer of American Citizens for Justice going back to its founding, the group that grew out of the Vincent Chin case. [We were a] dozen people that were around a table at the Golden Star restaurant where Vincent worked, trying to figure out what to do about the $3000 fine, 3 year probation sentence that was given by Wayne County Circuit Judge Kaufman. We were wondering what can we do. We were worried about double jeopardy, was that an issue? Or, could we pursue other avenues like a civil rights case down the road, which is ultimately what it turned out to be. So, I've been involved in the organization ever since.

What are lessons to learn from the Vincent Chin case? Are there any specific lessons that you think are especially relevant now, at this particular moment in time?

I think the bottom line is that we as Asian Americans have to realize that we could be victims at any point, any time, any place -- it’s kind of unpredictable, but there is an underlying anti-Asian animus that is present in society. Whether it's Highland Park, Detroit or Raleigh, North Carolina involving Jim Ming Lai Loo or Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Olathe, Kansas that, you know, there is always a risk because anti-Asian bias rears its head. It has not abated. It continues to be an issue.

Why do you think it continues to be an issue?

Well, I think It is the “we” and “they” mentality where a certain part of the population thinks that there is a certain image of the US that somehow ppl who look different than them don’t belong. Whether it is racial or gender preference bias or whatever, any identifying factor that differentiates us, there’s a certain percentage of the population, a certain part of the population I think that feels, I guess, ill-at-ease and subject to acting out.

These are teaching moments or opportunities to enlist people to join the movement. It doesn’t matter if people are activated by the Chin case or the Ming Lai Loo case or the Olathe case. It’s time to stand up and recognize it is an issue and work for racial justice.

What do you think is Vincent Chin’s legacy, 35 years after his death in Detroit?  

His case focused an examination on the criminal justice system, so, as a result of that case, and the lenient sentence, the Supreme Court acted on the sentencing issue to require mandatory minimum sentencing and then it became legislatively mandated. Became a bill and passed. It became a law in terms of mandatory minimum sentences -- no more deviations without a judge actually explaining a reason on the record why there's some deviation from the mandatory minimum. That was something that was addressed.

Also, the victim's’ impact statement. At time of the Chin case, there wasn't an automatic right for the victim’s family to give testimony about the victim. Since then, the family has an opportunity to impact the sentencing. The victim's impact statement is really important. Now it’s just a part of the sentencing process; it’s so ingrained that no one thinks about the time when we didn't have that. 35 years ago we didn't have that.

 

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