Soldiers subjected the Lower Manhattan native to abuse and racial prejudice
By Marissa Maier
“This could have happened to any of us because of the color of our skin or the shape of our eyes,” said Elizabeth Ou-
Yang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA-NY), at a press conference last week, where further details on the death of Private Danny Chen were revealed.
Chen, a 19-year-old Chinatown native, was serving in the army overseas when he was found dead in a guard tower in Afghanistan in October 2011 due to an “apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” according to official reports. At the end of December last year, it was announced that eight fellow soldiers were facing charges in connection with Chen’s death. The charges, which in some cases involved multiple counts, ranged from negligent homicide to involuntary manslaughter.
At the Jan. 5 press conference, OuYang shared the startling results of an investigation completed by army officials from the Southern Regional Command in Afghanistan, where Chen was stationed. The investigation once again confirmed reports that Chen was a victim of bigotry, as he was apparently hazed by fellow soldiers because of his race.
According to OuYang, who, along with Chen’s parents, met with Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick and Col. Thomas Weikert at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn the day before the press conference, the abuse started soon after Chen arrived on the base in mid-August 2011. He was the only Chinese American in his platoon and was made to do an excessive amount of exercise almost every day, from push-ups to sprints, that “quickly crossed over to abuse,” OuYang recounted.
On one occasion, he was forced to crawl over gravel while wearing all of his army equipment. He was assigned to excessive guard duty, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. Fellow soldiers called Chen racial slurs like gook, dragon lady and chink. According to investigators, on Sept. 27 a superior officer was observed dragging Chen out of bed and over almost 50 feet of gravel because he had apparently broken a hot water pump. While this incident was allegedly reported to the platoon sergeant and the squad leader, they, failed to relay this information to higher-ranking officers.
“Had they reported this incident, [Danny] might be here today,” OuYang said, visibly fighting back tears at the press conference.
The investigation also revealed that on the day of his death, Chen had forgotten his helmet for his guard duty. Once he had retrieved the helmet from his trailer, he was made to crawl roughly 330 feet back to his guard post while soldiers pelted him with rocks. He was also not provided with enough water during his turn of duty. Around 11 a.m. that day, a shot was heard and Chen was found dead in the guard tower.
While the Army has completed its investigation, they failed to provide Chen’s parents with a copy of his journal or a copy of the Army’s autopsy report.
OuYang added that the attorney representing the eight soldiers charged in connection with Chen’s death has asked for a delay in their trial, and OuYang expressed worries that they would be tried in Afghanistan instead of the United States.
City Council Member Margaret Chin, who attended the press conference along with comptroller John Liu, noted in a statement, “The Department of Defense must do everything in its power to prevent discrimination and harassment in our armed forces. I echo the call by Danny’s parents and OCA-NY to hold these eight soldiers accountable in a trial in the United States. We do not want these individuals to be tried in military court in Afghanistan. If this trial is held in Afghanistan, there will be no transparency and no way for Danny’s parents to see that justice is done.
“The shocking details of the abuse Danny endured confirm what we have said all along: These soldiers caused his death,” Chin added. “These eight soldiers and their commanding officers must be held accountable.”
Last week, Chin introduced a resolution in the City Council to not only honor Chen but to call upon the Department of Defense to reform their diversity and cultural awareness policies and procedures during the recruitment and training phase.
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