Good morning. It’s Tuesday. We’ll find out about a commemoration for a soldier from Chinatown who died by suicide after being subjected to hazing by other soldiers in Afghanistan. We’ll also see how the first day of Donald Trump’s civil trial unfolded.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
A dozen people will stand on a street corner in Lower Manhattan this morning. Each will read a paragraph about Pvt. Danny Chen, who died by suicide after being subjected to hazing and taunts by other soldiers in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, 12 years ago. This is from the paragraph that will be read by Anthony Chen, a cousin who is a college student:
“His funeral was the first funeral I’d ever attended. I was 8 years old. I didn’t know what was going on. Seeing Danny in a casket for the first time was surreal. Danny was always the jokester in the family. I thought any minute now he would pop up and surprise everyone, and everything would be OK.”
The paragraph goes on to describe how Anthony Chen was surprised to see people lined up on the sidewalk outside the funeral home: “I didn’t know the reason why Danny’s death was such a major issue.”
The commemoration will serve to remember who Private Chen was and to highlight larger issues affecting Chinatown, where he grew up. The ceremony will take place at the intersection of Canal Street and Elizabeth Street, which was named Pvt. Danny Chen Way in 2014.
The Army, which said Private Chen shot himself, charged eight soldiers in connection with his death, saying they had bullied him, pulling him from his bunk and dragging him across the floor. One of the soldiers was thrown out of the military, and others were given demotions and short prison sentences. A sergeant was acquitted of the most serious charges, including negligent homicide, hazing and reckless endangerment, but was found guilty of lesser charges.
“It is ever so important that we not forget his story,” said Elizabeth OuYang, a member of the committee organizing this morning’s commemoration and a civil rights attorney who worked to bring attention to the case when she was the president of the New York chapter of OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates. “Danny was a U.S.-born citizen of Asian descent, and look how he was treated.”
He had led an ordinary life, his cousin Banny Chen said in 2021, and that made his death all the more disturbing — what happened to him could have happened to anyone. As a teenager he had spent time playing handball, eating at McDonald’s and hanging out in Chinatown. He enlisted in the Army after high school.
A military prosecutor said at one of the courts-martial that Private Chen had been “ostracized” after he was deployed in Afghanistan, with a sergeant making him miserable by subjecting him to racial harassment and hazing. The doctor who performed the autopsy said a message written on his arm said “tell my parents I’m sorry.”
The last of the readers at the commemoration will be the playwright David Henry Hwang, who wrote the libretto for an opera inspired by Private Chen’s story, “An American Soldier.” With music by Huang Ruo, it had its premiere at the Opera Theater of St. Louis in 2018 and will be staged in May at the new Perelman Performing Arts Center near One World Trade Center.
OuYang said the soldiers who were prosecuted got “slap-on-the-wrist punishments.” She said that “Asian Americans who want to protect our country” by joining the military “will have second thoughts if our country cannot protect them” once they are deployed.
She said the format for the commemoration had taken shape at a planning session when the group decided to mark 12th anniversary of his death in 12 parts. “We came up with 11,” she said, “and Anthony piped up, the only time he piped up during the meeting: “Liz, you left out the funeral.’ That was the most impactful thing for him.”
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.
Prepare for sunshine and high temperatures in the low 80s. At night, temps will dip to a low around 68.
In effect until Saturday (Shemini Atzeret).
The latest New York news
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Fiscal cliff: The city faces financial pressures in the coming years that threaten to worsen inequality across the school system.
Possible abduction: A 9-year-old girl who disappeared during a bike ride in a state park north of Albany was found alive, and a suspect is in custody.
Landlord loss: The Supreme Court announced that it would not hear a challenge to New York’s rent-stabilization regulations, under which the government sets maximum permissible rent increases and generally allows tenants to renew their leases indefinitely.
Museum metamorphosis: A renovation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art will create more exhibition space for the popular Costume Institute show as well as a new store and restaurant at the plaza level.
Day in court
Donald Trump sat in a New York courtroom on Monday, sometimes shaking his head, sometimes with his arms crossed, sometimes simply looking straight ahead, as the first of several government actions against him went to trial, a civil case that portrays him as a business cheat, not a titan.
The case, brought by Letitia James, the state attorney general, accuses Trump — along with his adult sons and their family business — of fraud for inflating the value of his holdings by more than $2 billion in some years, in part to get better terms from banks.
“Year after year, loan after loan, defendants misrepresented Mr. Trump’s net worth,” Kevin Wallace, a lead lawyer for James, said during opening statements. Wallace said it might be one thing to exaggerate for a television audience or Forbes Magazine’s list of the richest people, but “you cannot do it while conducting business” in New York.
Trump fired back outside the courtroom, blasting James and the judge overseeing the case, Arthur Engoron — even suggesting that they were criminals. He said that Engoron was a “rogue judge” who “should be out of office” and that the case was “a witch hunt — it’s a disgrace.”
Trump went into the trial at a disadvantage. Engoron ruled last week that Trump had persistently committed fraud and said that no trial was needed on that claim in James’s lawsuit. Left to be decided during the trial are allegations that include falsifying business records, issuing false financial statements and insurance fraud.
The tone of the proceeding in the courtroom changed when a lawyer for Trump, Alina Habba, delivered what she said was an unplanned presentation attacking James as politically motivated — she said James ran for office to “get Trump.” Habba also said that Trump’s business partners had made money from the deals in question.
Trump nodded in agreement as she said that his company had simply been “doing business” and that “there was no intent to defraud, period, the end.”
Until then, the two sides largely talked past each other in their opening statements. My colleague Jonah E. Bromwich says Wallace concentrated on the way Trump’s properties were valued — and why: The value of individual asserts like Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street were reverse engineered to end up with the desired net worth.
When Wallace played a clip of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, explaining the process, Trump shook his head and scowled.
Wallace was laying the groundwork for a reckoning of Trump’s net worth. If the attorney general’s lawyers win the case, Engoron could impose a variety of punishments, including a $250 million penalty. Engoron could also bar Trump from operating a business in New York ever again.
Christopher Kise, a lawyer for Trump, countered that differing valuations were not unusual in real estate. “There was no nefarious intent — it simply reflects the change in a complex, sophisticated real estate development corporation,” Kise said in describing how Trump’s company had computed different values over time.
I rounded the corner to find a man crouching in front of the narrow planting bed by our co-op’s garden wall, yanking out plants. (Weeds? Legitimate growth? I wasn’t sure.)
I was mystified. I didn’t recognize the man as one of my neighbors. I paused in front of him, then moved to put my key in the building’s door. I looked at the man again. He finally looked up.
“I’m pulling weeds so this nice Boston ivy can grow up the wall,” he said.
“Oh,” I replied, “that’s nice.”
I was going to leave it there.
“I’m a landscape architect,” he said. “My firm designed the park next door.”
I struggled for a response.
“My name’s Michael,” he said. “I live up the street.”
It turned out it the man was Michael Van Valkenburgh, whose firm’s work includes, among other things, Brooklyn Bridge Park.
We exchanged a few more words, and then he strolled away.
— Jane Stageberg
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Kellina Moore and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].