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Asian American Advocates Demand Justice For Private Danny Chen

Photo: AP/U.S Army, File
Pvt. Danny Chen’s death has raised alarms for many in the Asian American community.

Following the death of Chen, Asian American advocates are calling for the military to uphold its policies to prevent hazing and racially motivated harassment.

By Nalea J. Ko, Reporter
February 3, 2012

Asian Americans advocates voiced their frustrations after a military investigating officer recommended dropping the involuntary manslaughter charge against an accused infantryman in Pvt. Danny Chen’s death.

The recommendation was made public Jan. 22 after a hearing wrapped up for Spc. Ryan Offutt, 32. Offutt faces 13 charges in connection with the Oct. 3 death of Chinese American infantryman Pvt. Danny Chen, who was 19 when he was found dead in a guard tower from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

All other charges were recommended to be forwarded to a court martial.

“While it’s true that the investigating officer in the Offutt case did not recommend to the Special Court-Martial Convening Authority that manslaughter charges go forward to trial, he (the special court-martial convening authority) does have the latitude to make that recommendation to the Army major general who is the general court-martial convening authority,” said George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

Offutt is one of eight United States Army soldiers who are facing charges in the death of Chen. Investigation hearings for the other accused soldiers will be held before Feb. 20.

Chen, who grew up Chinatown New York, was deployed to Afghanistan, where he allegedly endured racial harassment from superior officers.

Hours before Chen’s death he allegedly was subjected to verbal and physical abuse from his superior officers after he took a shower and forgot to turn off a water heater.

Asian American advocates say it is an outrage to drop the most serious charge against one of the eight infantrymen charged in the death of Chen. Elizabeth OuYang, New York branch president of OCA and spokesperson for the family, said Chen’s parents are upset at the news.

“They feel it is not enough for what they did to Danny,” OuYang said. “Danny was the only Asian American in his platoon in Afghanistan. According to Army investigators, he was called ‘Gook’, ‘Chink’ and ‘Dragon Lady.’”

Chen was also allegedly forced in a separate incident to tell his English-speaking comrades how to pitch a tent in Chinese, OuYang added.

The news of Chen’s death has inspired other Asian Americans to air their grievances about their experiences in the military.

“Pvt. Danny Chen he grew up pretty much two blocks from where I grew up. So I can definitely empathize with him because as an Asian American I also got some of the racist jokes from my peers when I was in the military,” said Pakee Fang, 29, a Chinese American who was in the United States Marines Corps. “So racism does exist in the military. It truly does.”

But not all Asian American soldiers say their time in the military mirrors Chen’s experience. Lt. Col. Clifford Chen, a Chinese American who was born in New York and grew up in California, says Marines have a saying that they are all one color: green.

“It’s become passé to use that expression, but I think the intent was correct,” Chen said. “Like anywhere I have probably come across individuals that may have been ignorant or racially insensitive, but I couldn’t say that I have ever experienced systematic maltreatment or discrimination based on my race.”


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