Shirley N Lew
AsAmNews New York Correspondent
Private Danny Chen was only 19 years when he died from a self inflicted gun shot to the head on October 3, 2011. He was a victim of hazing and bullying while serving in the US Army in Afghanistan.
On the fifth anniversary of his death, Chen’s hometown of Manhattan Chinatown remembered him with a public commemorative service held at his public school, PS130 on 143 Baxter Street.
At the service, Congresswoman, Nydia Velasquez said, “We are all Danny. We come together today to honor his memory. And we will use our commitment as a nation and as a community that we will do everything within our power to not let this ever happen again.”
Chen was the only Chinese American in his platoon and was given strenuous exercises because he was not considered fit enough. Soon those excessive exercises turned into harsh physical training that included racial slurs. He was even told to give instructions to his platoon in Chinese when no one else understood the language. He was tormented in Afghanistan for six weeks by his fellow comrades. The Chinese American community and Organization of Chinese Americans NY chapter (OCA-NY) has taken’s Chen’s case as a rallying cry to question the safety of their children who chose to service in the military.
Eight soldiers were charged in Chen’s case. Sergeant, Adam M. Holcomb in 2012 was found not guilty of negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat and hazing , but was guilty of one count of assault and two counts of maltreatment. He served less than one month in jail. Of the eight, only four soldiers served time in prison ranging from 30 days to ten month. It was a devastating disappointment to the Asian American community that longer sentences were not given.
NYC Council woman Margaret Chin said, “How do we come together to fight for justice to make sure that we find out what exactly happened to Danny and how do we make sure it never happens again to any one of our sons and daughters that send to serve this country?”
What have we learned from this tragedy? What can the military do to prevent this from happening again?
James Yee, a former US Army Muslim Chaplain with 14 years in the US Army said, ‘I don’t have faith in the military justice system.”
“He was the boy from NYC, “ said Benny Chen of his cousin. “I see a little bit of Danny in almost every high school student. What happened to Danny could very well happen to anyone else. If I were to group Danny with a bunch of other young men, he would not stand out at all because he was so ordinary to me. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for him in Afghanistan. To his platoon leaders he was different because of his race.”
In 2013, Manhattan’s Community Board 3 approved to rename Elizabeth Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown “Private Danny Chen Way,” a move spear headed by OCA-NY to memoralize the native Chinatown resident,
During the service, organizers also remembered Raheel Siddiqui, a Muslim-American and high school valedictorian that received a full scholarship to college, but decided to enlist in the US Marines instead. Like Chen, he was subjected to harsh physical exercises, racial slurs and was called a “terrorist”. He died from an apparent fall last March. The USMC says it was a suicide, but Siddiqui’s family disagrees and has retained a lawyer. Up to 20 Marines could be disciplined, but the invesitagation on his death continues.
There was song and spoken word memorializing Chen. At the end of the service attendees were invited to march from the public school to Private Danny Chen Way on Elizabeth Street.
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