POSTED: 9:34 a.m. HST, Jul 23, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 9:40 a.m. HST, Jul 23, 2012
NEW YORK >> Chinese-Americans decrying the suicide of a teenage Army private who allegedly was hazed because of his ethnicity left today for the North Carolina court martial for one of eight U.S. soldiers accused of pushing Danny Chen to the edge.
Dozens of supporters of Chen's family held a news conference in Manhattan before some boarded a van for the 10-hour trip to Fayetteville.
On a hot summer morning, they first gathered in Columbus Park, in the middle of Manhattan's Chinatown, surrounded by longtime neighborhood residents. Some listened from nearby tables while playing checkers and chatting in Chinese.
The group included community members, elected officials, a Vietnam War veteran and filmmakers making a documentary on the case. Chen's parents and other relatives left for North Carolina on Sunday.
"The verdict will have profound implications, not only for our ethnic group, but for all Americans who expect their government to give them both freedom and protection," said Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, a New York development group.
A sign held by one supporter read: "We are all Danny Chen."
His suicide over what military officials said was extreme physical and emotional abuse, in addition to nearly one suicide a day among America's troops, "means that there is something wrong with the system," said Chen, no relation to the family.
"We want justice for Pvt. Danny Chen," declared Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans, a nonprofit advocacy group that helped move the case forward. "The chain of command failed Pvt. Danny Chen, but our justice system cannot."
Military officials have said the 19-year-old soldier shot himself on Oct. 3 in a guardhouse in Afghanistan after weeks of abuse at the hands of fellow soldiers. They called him "Jackie Chen," his family said.
They said the abuse started while in training, and continued when he was deployed to Afghanistan.