Arun Venugopal is a reporter and the creator of Micropolis, WNYC’s multi-platform series examining race, sexuality, religion, street life and other issues that define New York City. He has been with the station since 2005, and has covered a wide range of stories, including the death of Sean Bell, the controversy over the Park 51 mosque and community center and Occupy Wall Street .
Death of Asian-American Soldier Prompts Debate About Army Culture
Thursday, December 22, 2011 - 04:51 PM
The death of an Asian-American soldier has prompted considerable debate about Army culture and the problem of racial discrimination. Eight soldiers have been charged in the death of Private Daniel Chen, who died of a gunshot wound to the head after allegedly being subjected to abuse and ethnic slurs.
A spokesman for the Department of Defense, Capt. John Kirby, has said there is “absolutely zero” tolerance for hazing and that the military was well-equipped to deal with such situations.
However, former Army Lieutenant Dan Choi said Asian-American soldiers were frequently isolated or teased and had little recourse, in the event they were harassed by other soldiers. He said it happened to him. “You see a lot of comments, and in my experiences I would walk around West Point and in my first year, very powerless, you would hear things like, ‘Do you want to get gook food?’”
“In the Army, you are taught that if you stick out then there will be consequences," Choi, who was active duty for five years, said on The Takeaway. "You know, you’re supposed to be just like everyone else. And if you look different, then you’re starting off with that additional burden and that stress from the get go.”
Chen was found dead in a guardhouse on October 3, from what the Army has called a self-inflicted bullet wound. It occurred after a period of intense hazing, including one episode when he was reportedly dragged across the floor and had rocks thrown at him, and was called "Jackie Chan." The eight soldiers were charged with manslaughter, negligent homicide, reckless endangerment and dereliction of duty.
On the website of Army Times, the majority of commenters in one discussion thread expressed outrage at the alleged behavior of Chen's fellow soldiers.
"In the Army, we have been told over and over again to care for each other," wrote one commenter going by the name Tatshyan Sihoe. "It really disappoints me to see this happen to one of our own. If we have to die let it be with the honor of the fight not from shameless bullying."
But on the Facebook page "U.S. Army Infantry," the discussion was less sympathetic, with some commenters using ethnic slurs for Asians or claiming that Chen had "pulled the race card."
"waaaaaaa they are making fun of me," the site's moderator wrote, "so im gonna shoot myself in the face."
Colonel James Hutton, an Army spokesman, said that despite the name of the page, it was not affiliated with the U.S. Army. He added the Army has standards for comments and does not tolerate discrimination. “I have no way of verifying who these people are. And it’s not an official site, so it’s not appropriate that I comment on the comments,” he said.