Jordan Neely Subway Killing a ‘Wake-Up Call for More Compassion’
Government officials clashed over their responses to the killing of Jordan Neely, a homeless man seemingly having a mental health crisis on the New York subway. On Monday afternoon, Neely, 30, was reportedly yelling and acting erratically on an F train in Manhattan, when a fellow passenger put him in a chokehold, killing him. Part of the incident was captured on video, and although the person who killed him is visible in the clip, he has not been publicly named. News outlets, citing police, have said he is a 24-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran. Police told reporters they took him into custody, questioned him, and released him.
The medical examiner determined Neely died of compression to his neck caused by the chokehold. His death was ruled a homicide.
In the wake of the incident, some officials quickly condemned the act, including New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, who on Tuesday tweeted, “NYC is not Gotham. We must not become a city where a mentally ill human being can be choked to death by a vigilante without consequence. Or where the killer is justified and cheered.”
New York Mayor Eric Adams denounced Lander’s tweet, calling it irresponsible. Adams, as well as Governor Kathy Hochul, have been circumspect in their responses to the killing, and, critics have pointed out, slow to cast blame on the man who was captured on video choking another passenger to death in the middle of the afternoon.
What began as a New York tragedy has grown into a national lightning rod for polarizing issues, from the perceived lawlessness of New York to criticisms of government officials for their treatment of people experiencing mental health issues and homelessness. Amid the political discourse, as news of Neely’s death has reached a national audience, a public cry for justice has risen, too, with many people demanding the unnamed killer be arrested for murder.
On Wednesday evening, after the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, Manhattan District Attorney Bragg said his office would investigate the deadly incident. “This is a solemn and serious matter that ended in the tragic loss of Jordan Neely’s life,” read a statement from a spokesperson for the D.A., shared with Rolling Stone. “As part of our rigorous ongoing investigation, we will review the Medical Examiner’s report, assess all available video and photo footage, identify and interview as many witnesses as possible, and obtain additional medical records.”
Later that night, Adams appeared on CNN, where he soft-pedaled an invitation to denounce a daytime killing on public transit. Asked about “vigilantism” and whether it’s appropriate for subway riders to take matters into their own hands, Adams replied, “Each situation is different.” He continued, “We have so many cases where passengers assist other riders. We don’t know exactly what happened here until the investigation is thorough. … We cannot just blanketly say what a passenger should or should not do in a situation like that.”
He was quick to disapprove of Lander’s tweet about vigilantism, however. “I don’t think that’s very responsible at the time where we’re still investigating the situation,” he said.
“What’s irresponsible is the Mayor’s failing to make clear that people cannot take the law into their own hands and kill someone having a mental health crisis,” says Chloe Chik, spokesperson for Comptroller Lander.
Lander tells Rolling Stone, “Our system failed to provide the support that Jordan Neely needed. We cannot become a city where someone experiencing a mental health crisis is choked to death on the subway. I hope that this can be a wake-up call for more compassion and common sense.”
Neely’s killing comes at a time of fierce debate about self-defense, Stand Your Ground laws, and the Second Amendment. The nationwide tension has been percolating around several incidents, from the killing of BLM protester Garrett Foster and Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s plan to pardon his convicted murderer; to the shooting of teen Ralph Yarl, who rang a neighbor’s doorbell; to the death of Kaylin Gillis, who pulled into the wrong driveway and the homeowner opened fire. In each instance, some people have defended the shooter’s actions and claimed they had a right to use force against another person.
While no gun was used in this killing, the incident prompted similar praise from some members of the right, who hailed the killer as a hero restoring order to a crime-ridden city and berated the New York government for being soft on crime, even as the state’s recent bail reform is rolled back. “The man who restrained Jordan Neely isn’t just in the right here, he’s a hero,” tweeted right-wing provocateur Matt Walsh. “But sadly heroes get punished in our sick and depraved society. He needs to get out of NYC immediately.”
Juan Alberto Vazquez, an independent journalist, filmed part of Monday’s incident, and posted it on his Facebook account, Luces de Nueva York. “He said he had no food, he had no drink, that he was tired and doesn’t care if he goes to jail,” he said, speaking to the New York Post. Vazquez told The New York Times Neely had not assaulted anyone before the other passenger put him in a chokehold. Vazquez said he held him there for 15 minutes.
The three-minute video Vazquez posted shows a white man with blonde, curly hair, holding Neely, who is Black, in a chokehold on the floor of a stopped train, while two people help him restrain Neely’s arms. When Neely stops moving, the blonde man gets up and multiple people turn Neely on his side.
Neely was known as a busker who performed as a Michel Jackson impersonator before his mental health deteriorated. His father, Andre Zachery, told the New York Daily News Neely was autistic, and that he’d fallen into a funk after his mother was murdered in 2007. He also said Neely didn’t take the medications prescribed to him and that his autism prevented him from getting steady work. He’d been arrested dozens of times in recent years, the Daily News reported, and at the time of his death, a warrant was out for his arrest on felony assault charges.
In a statement on Wednesday, Adams pointed to Neely’s mental health as a contributing factor to the incident. “There’s a lot we don’t know about what happened here, so I’m going to refrain from commenting further,” he said. “However, we do know that there were serious mental health issues in play here, which is why our administration has made record investments in providing care to those who need it and getting people off the streets and the subways, and out of dangerous situations.”
Adams’ record as mayor doesn’t exactly reflect the kind of progress he touts. Since taking office last year, he has cleared hundreds of homeless encampments in the city and has made an aggressive push to remove people facing homelessness from platforms and train cars. He also cut $615 million from the city’s Department of Homeless Services. He faced heavy criticism last fall for a plan to involuntarily hospitalize homeless people.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul also commented on Neely’s mental condition. “People who are homeless in our subways, many of them in the throes of mental health episodes, and that’s what I believe were some of the factors involved here,” she said. “There’s consequences for behavior.”
U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has said Neely was “murdered,” Tweeted Thursday, pressuring her fellow elected officials to speak out against Neely’s killing. “I have yet to hear a real explanation from any official hesitating to condemn the killing of Jordan Neely about what makes condemning this violence so ‘complicated,’” she wrote. “Killing is wrong. Killing the poor is wrong. Killing the mentally ill is wrong. Why is that so hard to say?”
As news of Neely’s death spread, activists and community organizations reacted. The Coalition for the Homeless released a statement Wednesday from its executive director, Dave Giffen. “This horrific incident is yet another reminder of Governor Hochul’s and Mayor Adams’ complete failure to provide the critical mental health services desperately needed by so many people in our city,” it read. “What’s more, the fact that someone who took the life of a distressed, mentally-ill human being on a subway could be set free without facing any consequences is shocking, and evidences the city’s callous indifference to the lives of those who are homeless and psychiatrically unwell. This is an absolute travesty that must be investigated immediately.”
As Wednesday evening rush hour began, dozens of people reportedly assembled for a vigil and protest on the platform at the subway station where Neely was killed. Demonstrators demanded justice for Neely’s death and better social services for people in need, according to reporting by local outlet The City. Demonstrators shouted “Black Lives Matter” and “Fuck Eric Adams,” according to Fox News. Additional demonstrations are planned for Friday and Saturday.
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