This article originally appeared in the Metropolitan Monitor, October 2012

Private Danny Chen, the US Army soldier who committed suicide one year ago Wednesday in a guard tower while stationed in Afghanistan, was remembered Wednesday night during a vigil that drew a crowd of about 70 to Union Square in Manhattan.

Chen, a native of Chinatown, was discovered dead at age 19 from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head on Oct. 3, 2011. His suicide ignited the Chinese-American community as reports suggested that racial slurs, hazing and physical abuse by his fellow soldiers drove Chen to take his life. Wednesday’s vigil stressed the importance remembering Chen and the community’s desire to end the practice of hazing in the military.

“The fight for justice is not over,” said District 1 councilwoman, Margaret Chin.

Three young Asian women helped open the vigil by beating drums 19 times – one beat for each year of Chen’s life. Chen’s mother, Suzhen Chen, spoke to the audience, bursting to tears almost immediately after her first words. Suzhen Chen stood next to Chen’s father, Yan Tao Chen, who wore his son’s camouflage military hat.

Audience members held signs that included “Love Not War,” “We Cannot be Silent to Abuse,” and “Racism in the Military Must Stop.”

Union Square’s usual rowdy atmosphere seeped into the vigil’s peaceful environment: music and talking were overheard throughout the vigil’s presentations. Yet when a young female singer took the microphone to sing Sarah McLaughlin’s ballad “I Will Remember You,” the park grew quiet.

Guests of the rally included officials who expressed their sympathy for the Chen family and supported measures to bring an end to military hazing.

Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez told the crowd that she had introduced legislation to stop hazing in the military. Part of this legislation – the Service Member Anti-hazing Act – will provide for expedited transfers, something many consider would have saved Chen while he was suffering from abuse. The bill, also backed by New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, passed the House but awaits approval from the Senate.

Kenneth Cohen, president of the NAACP Northeast chapter, also addressed the crowd. On the ground in front of him were flameless candles that spelled out “RIP Danny,” and Cohen picked up one of these candles.

“The one thing that we hope that these rallies, actions and commemorations will do is show that his light will never go out,” said Cohen.

“In his death, life will be changed forever,” Cohen said. Cohen believes Chen’s death might save lives by illuminating the danger of hazing.

Ivy Tang Lay, a senior at Baruch College in New York, attended middle and high school with Chen. “[Schools] have worked vigorously to remind America of a young soldier who was called dragon lady, chink, and singled out in our country’s military,” Lay said. Earlier, college culture organizations around the nation were urged to call Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta with the message, “Stop Hazing. Save Lives. RIP Private Danny Chen.”

Bryan Jenson, who has lived in New York for eight years, first heard about Danny Chen’s story the evening of the rally, and felt compelled to be a part of it. “This is a real war crime,” Jenson said. “He didn’t really die as a soldier, he died as a victim of abuse.”

Hamson McPherson Sr., the father of Hamson McPherson Jr., an African-American soldier who committed suicide just a few months after Chen, addressed the crowd to offer his support to Chen’s family. The investigation into his son’s suicide, which McPherson Sr. claims was spurred by racist actions from a white marine, is continuing almost year later.

The vigil ended with a reverend leading a meditation. He called on the audience to place their palms together and bow their heads. Then he rang a small bell several times.

“I think the turnout was great to get the message out to the broader community beyond Chinatown and beyond the Asian-American community,” Councilwoman Chin said after the rally.

“It pisses me off that the government does s— like this. Well, it’s not the government but the military, that they have that hazing thing,” said Aaron Garcia, a supporter at the rally. “It’s like a frat boy thing. It just shouldn’t be around.”

“When you’re in the military I don’t think they should break you down to make you a fighter for their country. I think people lose themselves physically and mentally.”

Eight soldiers have been charged with abuse that led to suicide, five of which have gone to trial. The community has been in enraged as the first trials have given soldiers what many in the community view as light punishments for their involvements in Chen’s death.

The next trial in the Danny Chen case is Oct. 24. It is for 1st Lt. Daniel Schwartz, who is charged with dereliction of duties, six counts of maltreatment and using racially abusive language.