Three years ago this Thursday, 19-year-old Private Danny Chen was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Chen had recently enlisted in the US Army, hoping it would prepare him for a career in the NYPD. According to the New York Post, Chen was initially thrilled about his budding military career.
“[H]ooah for leaving,” he wrote in his diary on his way to basic training last January. “Excited as heck.”
But, within months of his deployment to Afghanistan, Chen’s mother, Su Zhen Chen, was receiving the news no parent of a soldier wants to hear: Private Chen was dead. Worse yet, his death appears to have come as the tragic culmination of weeks of abuse committed by the men — all White — who should have been his brothers-in-arms.
Chen’s story, which was recently immortalized into an opera called “An American Soldier” by famed Asian American playwright David Henry Hwang, is heartbreaking. I wrote earlier this year:
The only Chinese American in his platoon, Chen had been the target of a number of racial slurs — including “gook”, “chink”, “eggroll” and “dragon lady”. He had also been hazed mercilessly: he had been beaten mercilessly with stones, dragged across gravel until bloodied and bruised, kicked repeatedly, forced to do push-ups while holding water in his mouth, and assigned excessive guard duty to the point of exhaustion. Two months after his death, eight of Chen’s fellow officers were court-martialed and charged with numerous crimes related to his death; yet, most of those charges were later dropped or reduced, including the most serious charge of involuntary manslaughter. Most of the officers involved in Chen’s death were given paltry sentences — one soldier received a mere 30 days in jail and a demotion in rank — and currently, the Army refuses to divulge any additional details in the case.
To learn more about Private Chen, read this long-form investigation by the New York Post.
Justice may never be found in the case of Private Chen’s death. How can there be justice for this kind of abject racism and abuse? How can we find solace in the knowledge that Chen’s abusers received almost no penalties? There is, at the moment, only the bittersweet vow to never forget. In May, Manhattan Chinatown’s residents successfully petitioned to have Elizabeth Street renamed Private Danny Chen Way.
On Thursday, the Organization of Chinese Americans-New York (@OCA_NYC)has organized a rally and moment of silence to commemorate Chen’s death. At 6:15pm on October 3rd, community members are urged to gather at the corner of Canal Street and Private Danny Chen Way to remember Private Chen’s life: find out more information and RSVP to attend on Facebook.