Danny Chen Story Finally Becomes National News

The front page of this morning's New York Times features the Chen story.

The Danny Chen investigation is now front page news. Yesterday, the U.S. military announced that eight soldiers have been charged in connection with the October 3rd death of the 19-year old Lower East Side resident.   This morning’s New York Times leads with the story, reporter Kirk Semple writing:

One night in October, an Army private named Danny Chen apparently angered his fellow soldiers by forgetting to turn off the water heater after taking a shower at his outpost in Afghanistan, his family said. In the relatives’ account, the soldiers pulled Private Chen out of bed and dragged him across the floor; they forced him to crawl on the ground while they pelted him with rocks and taunted him with ethnic slurs. Finally, the family said, they ordered him to do pull-ups with a mouthful of water — while forbidding him from spitting it out. It was the culmination of what the family called a campaign of hazing against Private Chen, 19, who was born in Chinatown in Manhattan, the son of Chinese immigrants. Hours later, he was found dead in a guard tower, from what a military statement on Wednesday called “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound” to the head.

In the same article, the Times notes there are two ongoing investigations into the Chen tragedy, “one conducted by the regional command, which resulted in the charges, and one by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, which is continuing.”

This morning, the Pentagon announced it had transferred the accused soldiers to another base in Afghanistan and temporarily relieved them of their duties.  CBS reports a hearing will be held in Afghanistan to determine whether there’s enough evidence for a court martial.  More from CBS’s story:

At the time of his death, Chen’s mother told WCBS’ Cindy Hsu through a translator that her son had always dreamed of serving in the military. He wanted to serve in the military and then join the NYPD. He enlisted in the Army early this year despite his family’s objections – he was their only son, and they were concerned about him. Once serving abroad, things seemed to go horribly wrong. The family was told Chen was “harassed and beaten” by fellow soldiers. Chen’s parents became concerned it might’ve been a racial issue. “[Chen’s parents] asked the question, specifically, ‘Are you discriminated against because you’re Chinese or whatever.’ Danny said ‘I would rather not answer that question,'” the translator told Hsu.

Danny Chen.

In the Daily News this morning, columnist Denis Hamill does not mince words:

The greatest horror is that Danny Chen was allegedly subjected to this abuse by eight other Americans wearing the uniform of the United States of America, on foreign soil, where we have taken it upon ourselves to be the beacon of the planet, nation building, winning hearts and minds, showing by example the rest of the “uncivilized” world how to live in freedom, in democracy, with liberty and justice for all. Except if you’re a “Chinaman” like Danny Chen. It made me realize that since we’ve done incursions into Afghanistan and Iraq more new words and phrases have entered the American lexicon, “towel heads,” “camel jockeys” and “sand n—–.” Better to objectify the people we strip and degrade in places like Abu Ghraib, the way we slaughtered “gooks” in My Lai wearing the uniform of the greatest democracy in human history. For the first time in American history we have a man of color as Commander in Chief of the Armed Services. He should spare no effort in prosecuting to the absolute max those that participated in the vile, subhuman abuse that led Danny Chen from the lower East Side to end his life rather than live as a “Chinaman.”

In a separate story, the news takes a closer look at Danny Chen’s life on the Lower East Side and his decision to enlist in the Army:

He was soft-spoken and slender — more gentle than tough, more awkward than athletic. Friends described the only child from the lower East Side as quirky and brainy, with an offbeat sense of humor. But deep within Chen’s unimposing facade was a warrior. The 19-year-old honor student shipped off to Afghanistan this past summer eager to defend his country. “When he joined the Army, he said he always wanted to do something new in life and contribute to his country,” said longtime pal Raymond Dong, 19. “We were worried about him. I warned him not to join, but the choice was up to him in the end. “I told him doing new stuff is good in life but don’t put your life on the line for it. But that was probably why he wanted to join.” Even before he enlisted in the military, Chen dreamed of defending his city. The son of a chef and seamstress saw his military service as a stepping stone to his ultimate goal: To patrol New York’s streets as a member of the NYPD… Raised in public housing, Chen attended Public School 130 and Intermediate School 131. He went on to graduate from Pace High School. When he wasn’t studying, Chen was often playing handball at a park in Chinatown…

Council member Margaret Chin, the first Chinese person to represent Chinatown, has been making the rounds on television programs the past 24 hours.  On Channel 5’s morning show, she emphasized that the Pentagon has not released an autopsy report, in spite of multiple requests from the family. But whether it was suicide or homicide, Chin said, it’s clear “these soldiers caused (Danny Chin’s) death.”

Chin also appeared on NY1’s “Inside City Hall” last night.  She said there must be “zero tolerance” for harassment and prejudice towards Asians serving in the military. Chin explained that Chen’s family is very strong but that the tragedy has “broken their hearts.”

6 comments to Danny Chen Story Finally Becomes National News

  • Anonymous

    These American soldiers should be ashamed of themselves and punished! I am disgusted by their actions!

  • esther

    thanks for putting this article together and covering the events since the beginning, when mainstream media thought it would blow over unnoticed and weren’t even going to bother mentioning it.

  • Philipewu

    How can I show support for the Chen family. I am a veteran born and raised in New York. My grandfather was born in China and I wish to help his cause for justice.

  • Philipewu

    There were time in the Military I could relate to what Danny Chen experienced. This is one those situation I wish I would have been in his unit. All It would have taken was for someone in authority to stand up to these thugs. Danny Chen chain of command fail him. 

  • KaiEr

    While I am saddened at their loss, the simple fact remains that much of what is being written is hearsay and nothing more than what the parents or other third parties are saying.  I’m amazed that people seem to have come to what they feel is an undeniable conclusion over nothing more than the words of the parents and Chen’s perceptions.

    Taking what Chen himself wrote “I’m running out of jokes to come back at them.” it seems as though it was, to some degree, mutual.

    Often times we forget that while a situation may affect someone’s mental state, it is also true that someone’s mental state may affect their perceptions.

    We have not read anything about how the obvious situation of being in a war zone may have had an effect on his state of mind.  It seems that people are putting the cart before the horse and automatically stating that his suicide was over this, and nothing else.

    It is a little reminiscent of what happened with Harry Lew.  Along with the bits and pieces of reported “hazing”, there were just as many reports (as seen by Chen’s own admission in his journal) of repeated dereliction of duty on their own part.

    In Harry Lew’s case, much of what was considered “hazing” was nothing more than normal military discipline for gross infractions that could cost others their lives. – Forcing someone to do physically demanding exercises or smacking them in the back of the helmet when they repeatedly fall asleep on guard duty in a war zone isn’t “hazing”.

    If I were stationed with them, under those circumstances, I might go as far as kicking them in the nuts and using a racial slur as well.  And it would have nothing to do with racism or hazing – it would have to do with the realization that I am supposed to depend on them in a life threatening situation.

  • Andyv2k14

    Let me try to explain how a combat platoon functions.  If others have had differnet experiences please share.  By nature, we are a close knit group, brought together in training rotations, drunken nights clubbing, barfights, PT, video games and share escapades in the rear.  Because we are so close knit, shit talking is an innate part of being in a line unit.

    Basically, if people don’t make fun of you for your race, they make fun of you for what you eat, how you eat, how you sleep, what you wear for civies, the porn you watch, or any combination there of.  It’s part of that world.  If you don’t like it, do you time with honor and leave it.  Some people, like me, love the world, love the brotherhood and the sort of rough nature of it.

    Also, keep in mind that it is an alpha male world.  You are dealing with people, some of whom made a choice several times to make a living as combat soldiers, people who fight and kill other people.  These are innately aggressive, violent people.  The story says the kid was shy and gentle.  Those traits would get anybody in a line platoon effed up.  As an NCO, I don’t look for kind or gentle, I look for tough, disciplined and with a certain amount of inner violence that can be tapped into. 

    Finally, the kid made a lot of stupid mistakes.  Leaving a hot water heater on?  It’s probably the only one those guys had and the only way to take a hot shower.  I watched a guy pull a 9mm on a comrade for stealing his last American cigarettes.  Like I said, alpha male world with violent people, don’t fuck with other people’s or community shit, otherwise you will end up hurting.  I’d probably beat the person that made it so I couldn’t take hot showers anymore, I’m not going to lie.  Similarly, showing up for guard duty without your helmet or water?  Come on, get your head out of your ass kid.  I would have made him low crawl too.

    Baseline is, maybe race had something to do with it, but I doubt it.  Sounds like the kid was a naive, shy kid with an incompatible personality who arrived as an FNG in an already deployed unit and proceeded to make a string of dumb mistakes.  And by the way, doing lots of push ups, sit ups, low-crawling, bear crawling and other exercises is part of what we call smoking.  It is used to get guys in shape and serve as corrective training, since we can’t beat the shit out of Soldiers anymore.

    People need to keep in mind that this is a deployed combat platoon, not a boy scout troop at summer camp.  If you want to live in an alpha male world with a bunch of innately violent people, you need to be prepared for it.  Don’t go in and think it’s gonna be like Highschool mixed with CoD, because it’s not.  Kid was naive, couldn’t shape up and didn’t have the mental fortitude to drive on.

    I sympathize with how hard it is.  I’m an eight year veteran of combat arms and Asian in appearance (I grew up in a white small, rural town).  I got taunted when I came in for my race.  I went out and did better than everyone else.  I shot top gun at gunnery, went to sniper school and passed, amongst other things.  I forced other people to respect me because I was a good Soldier and didn’t do dumb stuff like forget equipment or break it.