Private Danny Chen Honored in Street Name

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While eating dinner, my mom asked my brother if his classmates ever hazed him because he was Chinese. “Mom, is this appropriate for the dinner table?” I said. She explained that it was inspired by a fictional piece she read: an immigrant boy bullied by a classmate because he was Chinese. Mom said she could not believe a classmate would ever harm one of their own, especially when it stemmed from racial prejudice. In the story, she said the classmate constantly taunted the boy with slurs such as “grow back your long braids” and “you Chinese men have small dicks.” I immediately became very uncomfortable because I did not expect my mom to just blurt out “dick” to me.

I told her that yes, here in America, you do get hazed by people who are supposed to be your friend. And yes, race could be one reason for the harassment. It happened to Private Danny Chen who committed suicide in Afghanistan. He was harmed not by his enemies but by his fellow soldiers. They called him “gook, Dragon Lady, egg roll, chink,” and physically tormented him. Because Chen did not turn off the hot water in the shower room, his comrades pulled him out of bed and dragged him across the floor; they forced him to crawl on the ground while they threw rocks at his back and taunted him with ethnic slurs. The soldiers also forced him to do chin-ups while holding liquid in his mouth and forbidden him to swallow or spit them out. Two weeks before Chen committed suicide, he was publicly humiliated. While other soldiers erected a new tent, his commander forced Chen to wear a green construction hat and bark directions at his comrades in Chinese. Several days later, Chen put a gun to his chin and pulled the trigger, and ended his life after ten months of joining the army.

After hearing the story, my mom said, “Wow. Did they also make fun of his dick?”

I tried to deafen myself.

She then shared the story she read. It was from the perspective of a public defender. He represented the father of the boy who was harassed at school. A classmate ridiculed and hazed his son because he was Chinese. His client was accused of breaking the bones of this classmate’s father. The public defender learnt that his client had approached the school administration to stop the torment. But, the harassment continued because the administration did not do much since they did not feel pressured by this immigrant parent who barely spoke English.

Later, his client met with the bully’s father at school. They shook hands as they greeted each other. Immediately, the bully’s father felt pain. He sought medical treatment and discovered his fingers were broken. He was furious and was convinced that the Chinese dad had broken his finger while shaking his hand. The bully’s family filed a lawsuit.

The prosecutor had a key witness: the neighbor of the defendant, a teenage boy. The witness said he frequently saw the Chinese father practice martial arts in his home, and saw him break bricks by squeezing them. The public defender discovered that the witness had a history of deception and illegal activities. Thus, he emphasized the witness lacked credibility. And because the prosecution team had no other evidence, the plaintiff reluctantly withdrew the case.

A few days later, the public defender received a phone call from his client. He said he was taking his family back to China because they were better suited back in their homeland. He thanked him for his service and mentioned his grandfather’s name.

After he hung up the phone, the lawyer searched the grandfather’s name on the internet. He discovered that the grandfather was a martial artist. And as he scrolled down the webpage of his biography, he learned that his exclusive skill was the ability to break a person’s fingers, with a handshake.

After Private Chen committed suicide on October 3, 2011, 8 soldiers were charged in connection to his death. Five of the eight were charged with manslaughter and negligent homicide. All soldiers were found or pled guilty. First Lieutenant Daniel Schwartz avoided a trial but was thrown out of the military under a deal with the prosecutors. Some received demotions and prison sentences; others received demotions but avoided prison time. The longest sentence was 6 months.

Private Chen was buried at a cemetery in the New York suburbs. His parents purchased the plots next to his so they can be together after they die.

In June 2013, about 2 years after Chen’s death, the City Council Transportation Committee approved a proposal to name a street in Chinatown to “Danny Chen Way.” The street served as a reminder of Chen’s death and as a way to remember him.

As for me, I worked up the courage to tell my mom to never say dicks to me again.

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