CHINATOWN — A Chinatown street could soon bear the name of Pvt. Danny Chen, who grew up in the neighborhood and committed suicide in Afghanistan in 2011 in the face of racially charged hazing.
Relatives and those who advocated for justice after Chen's death hope to co-name Elizabeth Street between Canal and Bayard streets "Danny Chen Way," as a way of honoring the 19-year-old soldier who once lived on the block.
The proposal will be presented to Community Board 3 on June 11, and if it's accepted it would go to the City Council for final approval.
"It will be a lasting legacy that all who serve in the military should be treated with dignity and respect," said Elizabeth OuYang, president of the Organization of Chinese Americans' New York office, who helped push Chen's death into the national spotlight. "They serve our country and fight for our rights."
Eight soldiers faced court martials in connection with the physical and verbal abuse Chen faced in the weeks leading up to his death on Oct. 3, 2011 in Afghanistan. He was found in a guard tower with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Seven soldiers who stood trial for hazing Chen received a reduction in rank. Five were given prison time, including two who were sentenced to hard labor, and four were booted from the Army, according to OuYang. One, Lt. Daniel L. Schwartz, avoided trial in exchange for being dismissed from the Army.
OuYang said she has already collected more than 500 signatures from residents and businesses owners in support of co-naming Elizabeth Street for Chen.
"He grew up on Elizabeth Street," she said. "He went to Chinese classes on Elizabeth Street."
The City Council often co-names streets in honor of people who have performed decades of community work. OuYang said she thought it was fitting to memorialize Chen not just because of his service, but because his death, she said, "led to a historic community organizing effort that led to reforms being passed that led to military court martials unprecedented here."