By Bert Eljera
LAS VEGAS – As the OCA Asian Pacific American national convention got underway in Las Vegas, the big news was happening elsewhere – in Fort Bragg, N.C. where a verdict was handed down on the hazing death of an Asian-American soldier.
A military court martial acquitted on Monday another soldier charged with negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, threats and hazing in the death of Pvt. Danny Chen in October last year.
Sgt. Adam M. Holcomb, acquitted of the more serious charge of negligent homicide, may now receive a “light” sentence of 30 days in prison, reduction of one rank, to specialist, and a fine of $1,181.55.
He was the first of eight enlisted men charged with driving Chen, an Army private, to kill himself after being subjected to intense humiliation and hazing.
The 19-year-old Chen, who was raised in New York’s Chinatown, shot himself Oct. 3 in a guard tower on a remote Army outpost in Kandahar province in Afghanistan after what military prosecutors said was a campaign of humiliation by fellow soldiers.
They called him “gook” and “chink” and made him crawl while pelting him with stones.
During his military trial, Holcomb admitted to having “issues in my head.” He was accused of calling Chen “Dragon Lady” and dragging him across sharp rocks.
“I know what I did was wrong,” Holcomb, 30, said on the stand, the New York Daily News reported.
He blamed his behavior to his long deployment in war zones and expressed regret for his actions.
But, the Asian-American leaders said the intense cruelty was symptomatic of the military culture of maltreatment of Asians.
“The verdict and sentencing recommendation in this case fly in the face of civil and human rights (violations.),” said OCA Executive Director Tom Hayashi in a statement with other APA leaders. “It is absolutely appalling.
“And it is quite disturbing that despite his conviction for maltreatment and assault, Sgt. Holcomb will be able to continue to serve honorably in the military, an honor he does not deserve,” Hayashi said in the statement.
It was also signed by Mee Moua, president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center, a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, and Elizabeth OuYang, OCA-NY president.
The OCA Asian Pacific American, a non-profit holding its national convention at Planet Hollywood Hotel & Casino that began Thursday, has spearheaded the civil rights fight for Chen.
The verdict was a hot topic in the gathering of Asian-Americans across the United States, which runs through Sunday.
The Asian-American leaders’ statement reads in part:
“Today’s verdict is reminiscent of the Vincent Chin case more than 30 years ago, in which his killers served no jail time and merely received a fine for taking Chin’s life.
“There was no justice for Chin and today there was no justice for Pvt. Chen, Lance Cpl. Harry Lew or the many other victims of military hazing. The slap on the wrist for Sgt. Holcomb clearly demonstrates that these types of actions are acceptable in the military culture.
“As long as there is no clear definition of hazing that is punishable under military regulations, there will be future miscarriages of justice for victims like Pvt. Chen.
“As a nation, we must come together and demand that Congress and all branches of the military adopt stronger policies to deter and address all forms of hazing, harassment and abuse in our military. There must be a zero-tolerance policy.
- A clear definition of “hazing” that is punishable under military regulations.
- Stronger accountability up and down the chain of command.
- Stiffer punishment for failure to report harassment and abuse.
- Protections for victims and whistle blowers of harassment and abuse.
- Mandatory diversity training and inclusion practices to promote more diversity within leadership positions.
- A comprehensive record-keeping system on reports of harassment and abuse.”
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