The first of eight service members charged in the alleged hazing and death of a 19-year-old Asian-American soldier faces court-martial this week in a case activists say highlights the need for reforms in the military to prevent racial abuse.
The U.S. Army charged the soldiers after officials said Private Danny Chen, born in New York City to Chinese immigrant parents, committed suicide by shooting himself in a guard tower in southern Afghanistan on October 3, 2011.
The men, all Chen’s superiors, are accused of subjecting him to weeks of disparaging taunts and physical mistreatment. The allegations include tying sandbags to his arms, throwing rocks and water bottles at him, making him speak Chinese instead of English and calling him names such as “gook,” “slants,” “chink” and “egg roll.”
The case has galvanized the Asian-American community in Chen’s hometown of New York and elsewhere. A few dozen supporters are traveling by plane or van to accompany his parents to the military trial starting on Tuesday at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
They are seeking justice for Chen and demanding that the military institute more safeguards against racial and ethnic prejudice, said Elizabeth OuYang, president of the New York chapter of the OCA, which represents Asian-Americans.
Military leaders have said the U.S. armed forces already have a “zero tolerance” policy toward bullying and hazing, as well as training procedures aimed at curbing such incidents.