Soldier’s Family, Activists, Elected Officials React to Army Charges (Updated 5:22 p.m.)

Private Danny Chen.
Chen's parents, elected officials and community activists held a news conference in Chinatown this morning. Photo credit: Office of Council member Margaret Chin.

Here’s an update on a story we reported earlier today: the U.S. military’s decision to charge eight soldiers inconnection with the death of Army Private Danny Chen. The body of the 19-year old Lower East Side resident was found in a guard tower at a military base in Afghanistan October 3rd.

Chen’s grieving parents, community activists and elected officials gathered in Chinatown this morning to discuss the decision. The Army’s statement did not make clear whether investigators believe Chen killed himself or whether the soldiers charged were directly responsible for his death. Elizabeth OuYang, president of the Organization of Chinese Americans (in New York), said “suicide, or homicide, those responsible for mistreating Danny caused his death.”

U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez added, “”We need to know the whole truth… Racial discrimination and intolerance have no place in today’s military.”

Community leaders plan to meet with pentagon officials January 4th. They hope more information about the events leading to Chen’s death will be made available at that time.

This afternoon, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver released a statement, saying:

The charges announced today in connection with the tragic death of Danny Chen, who grew up in the Chinatown district that I represent, are an important first step in ensuring that those responsible for this deplorable crime are brought to justice. I urge the military to prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law. I also hope that this horrible incident will lead the U.S. Army to increase sensitivity training and to improve its outreach to the Asian American community. My thoughts and prayers continue to be with Private Chen’s family and our entire Chinatown community.

UPDATE 5:22 p.m. Council member Margaret Chin, who attended today’s news conference, also put out a staement:

This news comes as a relief for Danny’s friends and family… For two months, those who were closest to Danny have maintained that he was a victim of racially based hazing and harassment by his fellow soldiers. The charges prove that the actions of these soldiers were contributing factors in Danny’s death. These individuals must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law… We have to send a clear message that mistreatment and harassment of minorities, women, and LGBT soldiers in our armed forced is unacceptable… Danny may have been harassed for looking Chinese, but he was Chinese-American. He was born in this country, and ever since he was young, he wanted to serve his country. As Asian-Americans, we need to know that when we send our sons and daughters to fight for this country, that this country will protect them.