By STANLEY N. KANAZAKI
On March 6, 2012, I attended a press conference held at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association building in New York’s Chinatown to update concerning the death of U.S. Army soldier Pvt. Danny Chen while on duty in Afghanistan. The press conference was chaired by Elizabeth R. OuYang, president of the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) New York Chapter.
Ms. OuYang began by giving the current situation of the case seeking justice for Pvt. Chen. Article 32 of the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) has been completed by the Army on all eight soldiers — a first lieutenant, five sergeants and two enlisted men — who were charged. Some were charged with negligent homicide with maximum sentence of three years instead of involuntary homicide, which called for maximum of 10 years. Additional charges were dereliction of duty and assault.
The charge should have been the maximum in view of how Pvt. Chen was subjected to continuous physical abuse, repeated racial taunting and humiliation. On Oct. 3, 2011, he took his own life. This is what happens when military leadership fails and men take matters into their own hands. The charges are to go to two more levels of command for reviews before it can be finalized.
There is a demand for a transparent investigation and the trial to be held in the U.S. and not in Afghanistan. This is a possibility since this Army unit is to redeploy back to the U.S. in April, to their base at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. The next problem is the distance involved and to get as many people up there for the entire trial, especially the Chen family and relatives.
OCA has taken action, holding press conferences and getting over 5,000 signatures on petitions demanding a transparent investigation. The signed petitions came from Beijing, Australia and from all over the U.S. (Petitions can be downloaded here).
A YouTube video titled “What Happened to Danny?” has been viewed by over 40,000. A mass rally and a march were held with over 500 participants from 36 organizations, followed by a candlelight vigil. They are also seeking a meeting with top Army officials at the Pentagon to seek reforms.
The press conference was attended by a large number of people and conducted most efficiently by OCA President OuYang. Standing with her at the rostrum were Danny’s parents and relatives. He was a “local boy” born in New York’s Chinatown to immigrant parents from China and the only child. He graduated from Pace High School before enlisting in the Army.
It was sad to see his parents, Yan Tao and Su Zhen Chen, who do not speak English, standing there stoically. One can only imagine what is going through their minds each time they attend an event for him.
The press conference ended with Ms. OuYang and Richard D. Meadow, the lawyer for the Chen family, taking questions from the audience.
It is most important for all of us to support this movement and bring justice for Pvt. Danny Chen. In the past we Asian Americans in this country have had violence perpetrated against us. As in the past, we must remember to stick together, for “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
Stanley Kanzaki is the author of “The Issei Prisoners of the San Pedro Internment Center.” He lives in New York. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.