While in California, Danny Fenster wrote about the homeless, gained their trust to tell their stories, and forged lasting bonds.
At a newspaper in a small Louisiana town, he listened carefully to families who had lost children to gun violence and woven their reports into stories, one of which was awarded a state prize.
And in Myanmar, he wrote or helped edit stories about people affected by the government’s mistreatment of groups such as Rohingya Muslims.
“He’s drawn to people who are being persecuted, people who are not properly represented,” said his father, Buddy Fenster, of Huntington Woods. “I think their stories speak to him and they attract him so that he can find out exactly what is happening to them. … Seeing the world what happens to people can help make them a better world. I really think that’s what he thinks journalism can do. “
Danny Fenster is now being persecuted himself after being arrested by security forces at an airport on May 24th while on his way to Metro Detroit to visit his family. It has been almost two weeks since his arrest, but still no word about where the 37-year-old journalist is and whether he is okay, said family members and elected officials. The family eagerly awaits news of his status as they ponder Window’s career and personality that led him to become editor-in-chief of Frontier Myanmar magazine.
A wide range of officials – from Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer to US Senator Gary Peters, D-Mich. to Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman – have spoken out against his detention in military-led Myanmar and called for his release.
On Thursday, Peters phoned National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and mentioned Window’s case.
“I remain very concerned about Danny Fenster’s detention in Burma and my office will continue to work with Danny’s family in Michigan, the State Department and the US Embassy in Burma to urge his release and ensure his welfare,” said Peters in a statement. “Danny is a journalist who has made it his business to educate the world about the plight of the Burmese people since the military coup, and his unjust arrest and further suppression of the freedom of the press is particularly outrageous.”
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The state legislators also expressed concern. State Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, and State Rep. Regina Weiss, D-Oak Park, released statements and passed legislation on Wednesday.
“Journalism is not a crime,” said Moss. “Our freedom of the press guarantees the safety of journalists here at home and must also force us to praise these virtues around the world. … US officials should make every effort to ensure that Danny is returned home safely, promptly and unconditionally. “
Several media groups and the Jewish community also support the release of windows. The Beth Shalom Ward in Oak Park released a statement of support this week. A website, Facebook group and petition were set up to raise awareness of his case as family members encourage people to contact their elected officials about his detention and spread the word on social media using the hashtag #BringDannyHome .
Born in Detroit, Fenster grew up in Huntington Woods, said brother Bryan Fenster.
His “dedication to his subjects,” which he writes about, may in part be rooted in his family history, Bryan said. The paternal grandparents of the family were the only ones who escaped the Nazi persecution.
“We have a family history of struggle of our own: my father’s parents are Holocaust survivors and that’s a big part of our identity,” said Bryan. “I think that resonates with him all the time, the fight. He’s definitely drawn to those who are fighting and trying to understand and connect with what people are going through.”
Danny’s grandmother, Lillian Fenster, 95, was quoted in a 2013 article in the Detroit Free Press about Holocaust survivors living in the Warsaw Ghetto.
“I remember the wagons going back and forth with dead people on them – men, women and children,” Fenster said in 2013. Fenster was part of a program at Wayne State University in Detroit to mark the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising .
After graduating from Berkley High School, Danny went to Chicago, where he attended Columbia College, family members and friends said.
Over the years he moved, went to California to work at AmeriCorps, sold hot dogs in Colorado, lived in an old van in Detroit while doing his Masters in Creative Writing from Wayne State, and then moved to Louisiana where he covered a wide range of stories on his beat.
He loves listening to the blues and hanging out at the Raven Lounge and John’s Carpet House in Detroit.
“Danny is the kind of person you want to be next to at the bar, someone who listens, someone thoughtful, someone funny,” said Jeffrey Nolish, a friend and head of politics at Detroit Disability Power. “He is a well-read citizen of the world and a student of life. … We miss him terribly.”
His last article published in the Daily Iberian in Louisiana, before moving to Asia, was in September 2018 about how family members of people who committed suicide try to prevent suicide.
He then moved to Thailand to work as a writer before landing in Myanmar about two years ago. In February, the Myanmar military arrested civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who received the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her support for democracy.
The military then declared a state of emergency, claiming that there had been electoral fraud in the election that Suu Kyi’s party had won, according to observers. The US and other nations have criticized Myanmar’s military leaders for the coup.
The military raid targeted many, including journalists.
Danny’s wife, Julianna Fenster tried to find information and to meet with Danny, but access was repeatedly denied, family members said.
“A guy who is taking a picture of a parade there in Myanmar, he is taking pictures of a protest or a strike, he could be seen as someone who is against the state and is jailed without any explanation or explanation,” said Buddy Window. “Unfortunately, my son is there in this country and I believe he has been mistakenly linked to … something that is going on there that is not allowed by the military junta.”
At Frontier Magazine, his main job was to edit the English-language part of the magazine, which also had a Burmese part.
Buddy and his wife spoke on CNN and other media earlier this week to publicize their son’s detention.
On Friday night they attended a rally for Danny at the Huntington Woods Recreation Center selling T-shirts with his photo “Free Window” on it. A portion of the proceeds from the shirts sold will be given to groups that will later be decided by Danny, the organizers said. United States MP Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, who wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week, signed by all members of the Michigan congressional delegation demanding the release of windows, attended the event Friday evening.
“He didn’t do anything wrong,” Levin said on a Facebook livestream of the event. “He was brave and only told the truth.”
Levin said Fenster and his employer did not break any law or regulation.
“We checked that carefully,” said Levin. “He didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, he did everything right.”
For Danny, his work is not just a job. “He is indebted to his subjects,” said Bryan. “He’s good at quick story writing, but he really tries to get into the subject and really get into it.”
Aside from his job, Danny is “a cool guy to have a beer with,” his dad said.
“He’s a laid back guy,” said Buddy. “He accepts everyone. He is curious about the culture of each individual.”
Nolish grew up with Danny, met in Chicago when they were both in college, and later became a roommate in an apartment in Detroit. Nolish has made a list of some of Danny’s stories that he has written over the years that reflect his range of work.
“Danny’s friends write stories of the joy he has given them and share photos of this beautiful son, brother, person,” said Nolish. “We remain as positive as can be expected under the circumstances. We try to give hope and love to the universe.”
Free Press, Associated Press, and USA Today photographer Junfu Han contributed to this report.
Contact Niraj Warikoo: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @nwarikoo