Family and friends of Pvt. Danny Chen spoke with reporters in a small, stark room on Mott Street this afternoon about how the soldier had been subjected to racial taunts and physical abuse by his comrades in the army. Pvt. Chen was allegedly driven to commit suicide at his base in Kandahar, Afghanistan last October.
“What can I say…In 1860 Mark Twain saw in front of his eyes a quote ‘chinaman’ being stoned to death in front of a police officer. I thought we had come a long way. I was just commenting outside how much longer we have to go,” said Wellington Chen, the director of the Chinatown Partnership.
Flanked by both American and Taiwanese flags, Pvt. Chen’s distraught family and members of the Chinese-American community addressed the press about new revelations regarding abuse the soldier suffered before his death.
Hazed and taunted with racial slurs, Private Chen ultimately committed suicide at his base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, initial investigations have concluded. While the family gave brief remarks through a translator, Liz OuYang, the President of the Organization for Chinese Americans spoke on behalf of Private Chen’s grieving parents.
Yesterday, the family was invited to Ft. Hamilton to hear a detailed account about the events leading to their son’s death. According to an investigation by the Regional Command South of Kandahar, Afghanistan (one of two ongoing internal investigation entities of the incident) Private Chen was ordered to complete excessive exercises almost immediately upon arriving in Afghanistan last August. Although he had successfully completed both basic and advanced training in the US before deployment, members of his platoon claimed he was not physically fit. Pvt. Chen, the only Chinese-American in his platoon, was required to run excessive sprints, carry sandbags, subjected to barrages of rocks (supposedly to simulate artillery) and was assigned extra duties.
Soon, however, the abuse escalated, Ms. OuYang explained, visibly affected by the revelations. “He was subjected to racial slurs—gook, Dragon Lady, chink—was made to perform push-ups with mouthfuls of water in his mouth that he wasn’t able to spit out or swallow,” she said. Approximately two weeks before his death, Private Chen was subjected to public humiliation. While other soldiers in the platoon were required to erect a new tent, Private Chen was forced to wear a green construction hat and bark directions at his comrades in Chinese.
The most severe physical abuse, however occurred, just five days before Pvt. Chen was found dead. “On September 27, Danny was assaulted. A sergeant dragged him out of his bed over fifty meters of gravel to the shower trailer and told ‘You broke the hot water pump!’ He had bruises and cuts on his back. Investigators found evidence that the platoon sergeant and the platoon leader, the top two leaders of this platoon, were aware of the September 27th attack and chose not to report it.”
On October 3, Private Chen was reporting for duty at a guard tower. “He forgot his helmet and did not have enough water. He was made to go back to the trailer to get it. Then he was made to crawl with all his equipment approximately 100 meters over gravel to begin his guard shift, while some of the suspects threw rocks at him. At 11:13 am that morning a shot was heard in the guard tower. Danny, according to the investigators, was found lying flat with his rifle next to him,” Ms. OuYang said.
The family still has not seen the autopsy report.
While Private Chen was laid to rest over two months ago, the family only learned about the extent of their son’s abuse yesterday at the Ft. Hamilton meeting.
After the press conference The Observer spoke to councilwoman Margaret Chin who has been involved with the case. The Chen family, she said, suffered through the meeting yesterday. “I think for what they went through yesterday, it was a three hour meeting, their hearts were hurting so much with every detail,” she said.