WASHINGTON — OCA (Organization of Chinese Americans), a national organization dedicated to advancing the political, social, and economic well-being of Asian Pacific Americans (APAs), applauds the U.S. Army’s swift action in conducting a full investigation in the case surrounding the death of Pvt. Danny Chen.
Chen, 19, was subjected to hazing during his tour of duty in Afghanistan. Soldiers dragged him across a floor, pelted him with stones and forced him to hold liquid in his mouth while hanging upside down, according to his diary entries. On Oct. 3, he was found dead in a guardhouse with a gunshot wound that the Army said was self-inflicted.
Even before shipping out, he was constantly teased about his name at a base in Georgia. He was called “Jackie Chen” (a reference to action star Jackie Chan) and was asked if he was Chinese, even though he was a native of New York.
The Army has announced charges against eight soldiers, saying Chen was a victim of illegal hazing. Five were charged with involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. The alleged offenses also included maltreatment, assault and threats.
The case is similar to that of Harry Lew, a 22-year-old lance corporal from Santa Clara, who took his own life last April in Afghanistan after being hazed by fellow Marines as punishment for falling asleep at his post. At a Marine Corps base in Hawaii, three Marines have been charged with wrongfully humiliating and demeaning Lew.
Lew was a nephew of Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
“The recent announcement of the charges made against eight soldiers responsible for the death of Pvt. Danny Chen demonstrates the U.S. Army’s commitment to ensuring that there is accountability for military personnel surrounding the circumstances that have been in question,” OCA said in a statement on Dec. 21. “Discovering the way in which Pvt. Chen had come to his death is a bitter reminder of similar incidents in the history of our community, including but not limited to the racially charged massacre in Los Angeles’ Chinatown in 1871 and more recently, the case of Vincent Chin, murdered by disgruntled Detroit Caucasian auto workers in 1982.
“While the particulars of the case can be found being covered by a number of media outlets, what is painfully clear is that racism and hate continues to be a significant challenge in the United States.”
OCA National President Ken Lee remarked, “The news of the Chen case is a bittersweet moment for me. On one hand, I could not imagine the depth of despair that the family has gone through. On the other hand, I am very proud of our OCA-New York Chapter working together with their community members and our OCA National Center along with our colleagues in Washington, D.C. to push for accountability and reform by the US Army.”
Prompted by the Chen case, representatives from the OCA-NY Chapter, OCA National Center, Japanese American Citizens League, Asian American Justice Center, and former Marine Capt. Bruce Yamashita, presently a practicing attorney in the greater D.C. area, attended a meeting on Dec. 14 at the Pentagon to discuss a number of concerns for the health and well-being of APA women and men in uniform. Yamashita successfully pursued a claim of racial discrimination against the Marine Corps.
Concerns centered on institutional culture and procedures that may be ineffective in both proactively and reactively dealing with hate-motivated harassment and discrimination. Several suggestions have been received by the top brass of the Army, and the organizations are awaiting a response.
“We have had a long-standing tradition of support for all branches of the military and embrace the American value of defending the Constitution,” said OCA Interim Executive Director Tom Hayashi. “Because so many APAs throughout our history have and continue to make significant contributions in the armed forces, OCA is committed to working with the Pentagon to protect the women and men who proudly serve, we have and always will be a resource to the Army, and I look forward to working closely with our liaison on the larger issues as the community struggles to heal from the wound of losing one of their sons in uniform.”