A call for justice

Private Danny Chen lived in the East Village and attended Pace High School.

Last October, the Lower Manhattan community lost a 19-year-old Asian-American son who put his life on the line for his country. Tragically, U.S. Army Private Danny Chen, a Chinatown native and an East Village resident, took his own life in Afghanistan after enduring months of abuse from fellow soldiers.

This month, Travis Carden, the first of eight soldiers accused of being involved in Chen’s death, will face a court-martial on charges of violating lawful general regulation, maltreatment and assault.

We were appalled to learn from an Army-led investigation, that Chen’s fellow soldiers took part in and condoned what amounts to racial hazing. What Chen reportedly experienced is abhorrent. Moving forward, our military must more strictly enforce its code of conduct so that such harassment is eliminated in the future.

In a positive new development, we hear that Carden’s court-martial may now be held in Alaska — rather than Afghanistan, as previously thought — because Chen’s unit is going to be redeployed stateside to its Alaska domestic base. Assuming this will happen, it will be a major victory for Chen’s family and supporters. Chen’s parents are willing to travel to Alaska to attend the trial, but were advised by the military not to go to Afghanistan because it’s too dangerous.

If, for some reason, Carden’s court-martial is to be held in Afghanistan, we agree with the Organization of Chinese Americans’ New York chapter (OCA-NY) that, at the very least, a closed-circuit video feed of the trials for Chen’s family should be provided.

Regardless of where the trials of Carden and the other accused officers take place, justice should be carried out swiftly to deter future similar heinous acts and, most important, to ensure that Private Chen did not die in vain.

Twice in the past 19 years terrorists have attacked Lower Manhattan. We who live and work Downtown know in our gut that we are still a terrorist target.

This past Monday, there was a report of a new threat of an attack against New York that was seen posted on Al Qaeda Internet forums. It may be an idle boast, because it’s not backed up by terrorist chatter, but law enforcement is investigating, as it should.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly recently came under attack for New York Police Department surveillance of Muslim groups in New Jersey. While it’s clear that all police work must comply with all laws that govern police behavior, it’s also clear that protecting the public against terrorist attacks cannot be done in a reactive fashion, but must be done proactively.

The challenge is how to protect the public through aggressive surveillance and policing while still protecting groups’ and individuals’ rights to privacy and free association. A thin line indeed sometimes separates the two.  Kelly must make a judgment call on which groups to monitor, and where, while utilizing limited resources.

It’s easy to second guess, but we believe that when protecting New York from another terrorist attack, erring on the side of being too proactive is the right response.

Kelly has also made clear, to his credit, that New York City is not an island and that police work against terrorism must extend to surrounding counties and states.

According to Kelly, New York City has been the target of 14 terrorist plots since 9/11. We are deeply fortunate not to have suffered another attack. This record of safety and protection does not happen in a vacuum.