Neighborhood Chatter: Plea to Hold Chen Case in US

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Last week, Council Member Margaret Chin joined Private Danny Chen's family, OCA-NY President Liz OuYang, Chinatown community leaders and supporters, in response to the conclusion of Article 32 pre-trial hearings for eight soldiers charged in connection with Chen's death. Chen is believed to have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound while serving with the Army in Afghanistan in Oct. 2011.

Supporters of the Chen family said they were "disappointed" that the investigating officer failed to recommend that the most serious charge of involuntary manslaughter be forwarded to court-martial for four of the eight defendants in the case.

"Last month, we called on the Army to charge those responsible for Danny's death with a punishment that fit the crime," said Chin. "Sadly, today, we were notified that the Army is unlikely to pursue the most serious charge of involuntary manslaughter against the defendants."

A lesser charge of negligent homicide was maintained for four defendants in the case. Negligent homicide has a sentence of three years confinement, compared to a 10-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter.

"The Army is saying that these individuals did not intend to kill or injure Danny," Chin said. "The Army is saying these individuals are not culpable and that they cannot be blamed for Danny's death. But we know that this isn't true. The repeated injury and assaults perpetrated by these soldiers caused Danny's death."

Of the eight soldiers charged in connection with Chen's death, five were charged with involuntary manslaughter and negligent homicide. In all five cases, the Army has recommended that the charge of involuntary manslaughter be dropped. The brigade commander will now consider the charges and these recommendations in determining whether or not to refer the charges to court-martial for final disposition.

"As this process moves forward, the Army must respect the Chen family's request to hold these trials in the United States," Chin added. "There has been enough secrecy. Serious charges have been leveled and dropped with no explanation. The Army must ensure these trials are transparent and the only way to do that is by holding them in the United States."



Last week, city Comptroller John C. Liu urged the city's Parks Department to fix safety hazards in parks and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs. At the Dry Dock Playground, located at E. 10th St and Avenue D, park officials first noted in Dec. 2010, "protruding cobblestones caused safety mats to be lifted and created a tripping hazard." When they returned for their routine inspection in July 2011, they noted that the problem had not only been ignored but had indeed gotten worse, said a press release distributed by Liu's office.

"Parents shouldn't have to worry about their children playing on broken equipment or near rat holes," Liu said in the release.

Although neighborhood residents have long complained about deteriorating conditions at the park, the Parks Department is about to begin a complete renovation and overhaul of the site. Originally approved in April 2011, the $1.2 million budget for the new park (secured by Councilwoman Rosie Mendez in 2011) will include a complete makeover for Dry Dock, including repaving the park's surface, improved play equipment and the addition of lighting to the park area for security and evening use.



In a March 7 plea to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Reps. Nydia Velązquez and Carolyn Maloney, State Sen. Daniel Squadron, Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and City Council Members Margaret Chin and Rosie Mendez wrote a petition outlining their objections to the DOE's proposed co-location of Manhattan Charter School II (MCSII), citing a lack of physical space in the Corlears 056 complex and concerns over mixing high school students with students as young as 5.

In addition to the elected officials' concerns, parents and current faculty at the Corlears school site (at 220 Henry St.) agree that the building is unable to effectively house more students. The building already houses the Henry Street School for International Studies, Castle Middle School and University Neighborhood Middle School, all of which share a single entrance that may pose safety hazards for younger students before and after school, according to city officials.



Almost two years after the fire that left the residents of 289 Grand St. in Chinatown displaced from their homes, a court ruling has finally granted tenants permission to return to their building by March of next year. Last week, Judge Timmie Elsner ordered the landlord of the building to fully renovate the apartments by March 1, 2013.

In a statement, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver celebrated the victory for the displaced Chinatown residents. "From the moment this tragic fire struck almost two years ago, we have been fighting tirelessly for the right of the tenants who were displaced from 289 Grand Street to return to their homes. They have suffered enormously and they have waited long enough," said Silver.

The blaze in April 2010 took the life of an 87-year-old man, injured 33 people and displaced an additional 200 residents. The landlords later explained that the building was in desperate need of repair and that it was impossible for the building to generate the amount of money needed for those efforts. While evidence they provided did substantiate those claims, Elsner ultimately ordered the landlord to completely restore all of the building's apartments.

Silver concluded, "Today is a great victory for [the tenants] and for everyone who has consistently fought for the protection and preservation of affordable housing here in Chinatown and throughout our city."

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