- Associated Press - Monday, July 23, 2012

NEW YORK — Chinese-Americans decrying the suicide of a teenage Army private who allegedly was hazed because of his ethnicity left Monday for the North Carolina court martial for one of eight U.S. soldiers accused of pushing Danny Chen to the edge.

Dozens of supporters of Chen’s family held a news conference in Manhattan on Monday before some boarded a van for the 10-hour trip to Fayetteville.

On a hot summer morning, they first gathered in Columbus Park, in the middle of Manhattan’s Chinatown, surrounded by longtime neighborhood residents. Some listened from nearby tables while playing checkers and chatting in Chinese.

The group included community members, elected officials, a Vietnam War veteran and filmmakers making a documentary on the case. Chen’s parents and other relatives left for North Carolina on Sunday.

“The verdict will have profound implications, not only for our ethnic group, but for all Americans who expect their government to give them both freedom and protection,” said Wellington Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, a New York development group.

A sign held by one supporter read: “We are all Danny Chen.”

His suicide over what military officials said was extreme physical and emotional abuse, in addition to nearly one suicide a day among America’s troops, “means that there is something wrong with the system,” said Mr. Chen, no relation to the family.

Military officials have said the 19-year-old soldier shot himself on Oct. 3 in a guardhouse in Afghanistan after weeks of abuse at the hands of fellow soldiers. They called him “Jackie Chen,” his family said, claiming the abuse started while in training, and continued when he was deployed to Afghanistan.

On the day he died, Chen was forced to crawl about 100 yards across gravel carrying his equipment while his fellow soldiers pelted him with rocks, according to his family, with whom he shared details of his ordeal.

Chen also wrote about the abuse in his journal.

The court martial for the first of the soldiers, Sgt. Adam Holcomb of Youngstown, Ohio, starts Tuesday at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. If convicted on all counts, which include a negligent homicide charge, he could face up to about 18 years in prison.