It has been more than a year since Su Zhen Chen’s 19-year old son, Danny, died in Afghanistan after enduring weeks of hazing at the hands of fellow soldiers. But in some ways it’s as though no time has passed at all. During a news conference yesterday in Chinatown, Chen was overcome with emotion as she thanked supporters for standing by her family and declared that justice had not been done.
This week the last of eight military trials came to an end when Lieut. Daniel Schwartz cut a deal and was thrown out of the Army for his role Chen’s death. Staff Sgt. Blaine G. Dugas, Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Van Bockel, Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, Sgt. Jeffrey T. Hurst, Spc. Thomas P. Curtis, Spc. Ryan J. Offutt and Sgt. Travis F. Carden had previously been sentenced in connection with the hazing ordeal, which ended in October of 2011 when Chen killed himself at an Army base in the Kandahar Province in Afghanistan.
During the past year, community activists and elected officials staged many rallies, demanded accountability from the Pentagon and organized a show of force at the trials in North Carolina. The campaign was led by Elizabeth OuYang, the president of the Organization of Chinese Americans-New York. Yesterday, she noted that only four of Chen’s tormenters were jailed and none of them received a sentence longer than six months.
OuYang said the disturbing message from the lenient sentences is that hazing is acceptable in the United States military. “You will not be protected,” she said, “and the military courts will not deliver justice.” She added that any Asian-American deciding whether to serve should think long and hard about whether it’s appropriate to risk his life for a country that offers so little protection from its own soldiers.
OuYang said she still has hope that the system can be improved. “Now that these court martials have concluded, Congress needs to pass pending legislation to ensure American soldiers will be protected from hazing in the military,” she asserted. This week, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez released a statement, which read:
Danny’s family has suffered a profound loss and our entire community continues mourning the passing of this talented young man. Removing Danny’s platoon leader from the Army should have been a foregone conclusion. Over the course of these trials, too many of the soldiers involved in Danny’s abuse received relatively minor sentences. For these reasons, it is all the more critical that a clear message be sent that hazing and racially motivated abuse have no place in our military. I have introduced and will continue working to see enacted legislation ensuring our Armed Forces make hazing issues a priority.
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver put out a statement as well:
The death of Private Danny Chen devastated my Chinatown community and all who believe in tolerance and respect for the dignity of others. First Lt. Daniel Schwartz was dismissed from the Army in connection with this case. I urge that the other soldiers who were charged, but remain in the Army, be dismissed as well. There is no place in our armed services for the type of bullying and hazing to which Private Chen was subjected. I urge Congress to move forward with legislation to add a hazing statute to the Uniform Code of Military Justice that provides greater protections for victims and tougher sanctions against perpetrators. We must not allow any more of our young men and women in uniform to endure the torment that Danny did.
City Council member Margaret Chin spoke at yesterday’s news conference. Chin, who attended some of the military trials, agreed, “justice was not served.” She said that “our work must continue” to raise awareness regarding anti-Asian discrimination in the U.S. military.
Danny Chen was raised in Chinatown. His family lives on the Lower East Side.