CHINATOWN — A proposal to name part of Elizabeth Street in memory of Pvt. Danny Chen, who grew up in the Chinatown and committed suicide in Afghanistan in 2011 in the face of racially charged hazing, moved one step closer to reality this week.
Community Board 3's Transportation and Public Safety Committee unanimously approved the street co-naming for the 19-year-old soldier Tuesday night, after Chen's family and supporters filled the meeting to make their case.
Many brought signs and all cheered after the subcommittee accepted the application to co-name Elizabeth Street between Canal and Bayard streets "Danny Chen Way."
“My son grew up in Chinatown — he was born in Elizabeth Street,” Chen's mother, Su Zhen Chen, told the board through a translator. “I want my son’s name on Elizabeth Street so he will never be forgotten.”
She cried as friends and relatives congratulated her after the vote.
To co-name a street, the community board requires applicants to get approval from at least 75 percent of the people who live on the street. Chen's mother received support from 82 percent of the people who live between Canal and Bayard streets, where Chen grew up, advocates said.
“Danny Chen’s name is now a household word in the Chinatown community and beyond,” Elizabeth OuYang, president of the Organization of Chinese Americans' New York office, who helped Chen’s mother with the application. “Private Chen is an individual who died under infamous circumstances of crime and his death has led to a greater awareness within society of hazing and racial maltreatment in the Army.”
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.
Chen’s death led to the passing of a law that requires the military to take proactive steps to stop hazing, OuYang said.
The street co-naming still needs to be approved during Community Board 3's full board meeting on June 25. After that, it will go to the City Council for a vote.