NEW YORK (AP) – The family and friends of an Asian-American soldier who committed suicide after being hazed by fellow soldiers said Tuesday that the punishment the eight have received was only a slap on the wrist.
“Our son died, and there is no reason why he should have died,” said Su Zhen Chen, the mother of Pvt. Danny Chen.
“These sentences do not give justice to his life; we want the system to change so the punishment would fit the crime,” the tearful mother said in Chinese.
She spoke through an interpreter at a news conference in New York’s Chinatown. Chen’s father, Yan Tao Chen, wore his dead son’s camouflage military cap.
Military officials said the 19-year-old New York-born Chen shot himself to death in a guardhouse in Afghanistan on Oct. 3, 2011, after being harassed by other soldiers with taunts that included racial epithets.
On Monday, officials said that the last of eight soldiers accused in the case is facing dismissal from the service. Of the other soldiers, five were sentenced to prison and two received demotions. In all, four were facing dismissal.
A representative of an organization advocating justice for Chen said all eight should be discharged.
Elizabeth OuYang, an attorney who heads the New York branch of the national nonprofit Organization of Chinese Americans, said minority members of the U.S. military “must decide whether it is worth the risk to fight for your country when your country will not protect you.”
OuYang joined Chen’s parents at the news conference.
Chen’s family has been told by investigators that soldiers taunted him with racial epithets and forced him to crawl on gravel, carrying equipment while they pelted him with rocks. Family members and their supporters said he was abused daily during his six-week tour in Afghanistan. Fellow soldiers also forced him to wear a green helmet and shout orders in Chinese to a battalion that had no other Chinese-American soldiers.
Chen was raised in Manhattan’s Chinatown by a father who works as a chef and a mother who is a seamstress. They still struggle with English, but attended what the mother called the “very painful” trials.
Proposed anti-hazing legislation is now making its way through Congress, sponsored by Rep. Nydia Velazquez and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, both New York Democrats.
“We will push for legislative reforms that will chip away at the deeply embedded culture of unchecked hazing in the military,” OuYang said.
The message of the trials, she said, is that “your fellow privates will not help you because of fear of retaliation, and the military court process will not deliver justice.”
Raymond Dong, Danny Chen’s best friend, said the Chinese-American community has “come a long way” since last year, staging protests and traveling to Washington to meet with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and other officials.
“I cannot say the same for the military,” he said.
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