Hundreds of community activists and concerned residents marched from the Army recruiting office at 143 Chambers Street to Columbus Park last night, asking one question: “what happened to Danny Chen?” It has been two-and-a-half months since the 19-year old private – who grew up on the Lower East Side – was found dead at a military base in Afghanistan. The tragedy has struck a nerve in Chinatown, where reports that the young man was tormented, beaten and subjected to anti-Asian slurs have understandably caused great alarm.
The rally was planned by the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA), which has been leading a coordinated campaign not only to pressure the Pentagon to conduct a fair and thorough investigation, but also to address anti-Asian bigotry in the Armed Forces. A number of elected officials spoke last night, demanding justice. Chen’s mother, Su Zhen Chen, stood at their side, holding a framed photo of her son and occasionally weeping.
A cousin, Benny Chen, read letters Danny had written to family members about his experiences since enlisting in the Army. In one letter, Danny explained, “They ask if I’m from China a few times a day… They also call out my name Chen in a goat-like voice sometimes for no reason… People crack jokes about Chinese people all the time. I’m running out of jokes to come back at them.”
Elizabeth OuYang, head of OCA’s New York chapter, “The people who hazed Danny, the people who beat him up, they did it because they knew there was an environment that they would get away with it.” Chen’s commanding officer, she continued,” “must take responsibility.”
On Wednesday, a delegation from Chinatown met with military officials in Washington. A list of 25 questions concerning the treatment of Asians in the military was given to the Pentagon. The community advocates were told all of the questions would be answered within “a week.” The investigation of Danny Chen’s death is expected to be completed by the end of February.