On 11 May, a spokesperson confirmed that New York prosecutors will charge US marine Daniel Penny with manslaughter. Freelance journalist Juan Alberto Vazquez filmed Penny using a chokehold on Jordan Neely – a homeless Black man. The incident took place on a New York subway train on 1 May.
Vazquez told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that Neely was shouting at other passengers, saying he didn’t have anything to eat or drink. Penny approached and put him in a headlock, which lasted several minutes. During that time, Neely tried and was unable to free himself, before he lost consciousness.
When they eventually arrived, police pronounced him dead at the scene. New York City’s medical examiner said that Neely was killed by “compression” of the neck, and ruled the death a homicide.
A spokesperson for Manhattan district attorney (DA) Alvin Bragg told AFP:
We can confirm that Daniel Penny will be arrested on a charge of manslaughter in the second degree.
Jordan Neely: public outcry
Neely’s death – and the publication of the footage – sparked widespread outrage. Protesters decried Neely’s death as an example of white “vigilanteism”. The heavy-handed police response to subsequent demonstrations was a marked contrast to the fact that the NYD let Penny walk at first:
I'm going to keep saying this until it breaks through: the NYPD is treating Daniel Penny, killer of Jordan Neely, like one of their own.
They didn't release his name, let him walk free, and now they're attacking protests with a violence not seen consistently since June 2020.
— Stop Cop City (@JoshuaPHilll) May 9, 2023
Most of the protest has dispersed, while some of the group stays for jail support.
Candles are lit for Jordan Neely along the precinct fence.
I’ll end this thread by saying that I have not seen this kind of sustained escalation from the NYPD since 2020. pic.twitter.com/nPOUB2e3oe
— Isabelle Leyva (@isabelle_leyva) May 9, 2023
Some of the protests even spilled onto the subway tracks themselves – bearing marked similarity to a 1987 protest against the lynching of Michael Griffith:
A protest took place on a NYC subway platform in response to the vigilante murder of 30-year-old Jordan Neely who was choked to death by an ex-marine.
There are still no charges for the man who committed this crime. Activists are demanding immediate action. pic.twitter.com/G2CiOyXQt8
— BreakThrough News (@BTnewsroom) May 3, 2023
NYC circa 1987. The Days of Rage protest shut down NYC subways by marching on the tracks after Michael Griffith was killed by a white mob. Mass militant action is needed to get justice for Jordan Neely pic.twitter.com/1HK57EzhFO
— Kamau Franklin (@kamaufranklin) May 4, 2023
Commenters also highlighted the racism inherent in the fact that Penny, a white man, killed a Black man – whilst a subway train watched on:
I’m going to say this as plainly as humanly possible: America is a racist country with racist leaders, institutions + media. Jordan Neely is dead because a white man wanted to kill a Black man and that white man is free because white America is glad he did it. That’s the truth.
— Olayemi Olurin (@msolurin) May 4, 2023
The lynching of Jordan Neely is what happens when you blame every violent thing that happens in this country on mental illness because while it excuses violent behavior from white people, it criminalizes mental illness in Black people.
The man who choked him
City council speaker Adrienne Adams said in a statement that:
The initial response by our legal system to this killing is disturbing and puts on display for the world the double standards that Black people and other people of color continue to face.
‘Poverty should not be a death sentence’
Friends told local media that Neely was homeless and had a history of mental illness. Dave Giffen, of the Coalition for the Homeless, said Neely’s death was evidence of the city’s:
callous indifference to the lives of those who are homeless and psychiatrically unwell.
Demonstrators also highlighted the fact that Neely’s life was devalued specifically because he was poor and homeless. Some carried banners reading “Poverty should not be a death sentence”:
In the wake of the murder of Jordan Neely in NYC, protests have been erupting for days demanding accountability for his killer and significant new investments in housing and healthcare. pic.twitter.com/5b17WjFGEf
— BreakThrough News (@BTnewsroom) May 9, 2023
Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, of think tank African American Policy Forum, stated that Neely’s death was not a fitting punishment for the crimes of being Black and homeless:
Being Black and poor in America should not be crimes punishable by vigilante death. Jordan Neely did not just deserve to live. He deserved to live a better life than what our society decided to afford him. We are devastated by his loss. @AAPolicyForum's full statement: pic.twitter.com/UTXPyY6WZe
— Kimberlé Crenshaw (@sandylocks) May 4, 2023
Those who tried to justify Penny’s actions said that the people in the train car were fearful of Neely. However, the onlookers’ descriptions of the scene seemed to tell a different story:
“Fear” is definitely not the word that comes to mind when I read these interviews with people who witnessed Daniel Penny killing Jordan Neelyhttps://t.co/DwQWtTUnif https://t.co/b1YbVXknve pic.twitter.com/wnSUhenyYf
— Tarik Endale | ታሪክ እንዳለ (@Tarik_Endale) May 6, 2023
They described Penny as possessing a “calmness” that had an “eerie” quality. Penny, to them, “seemed to know what he was doing”.
Fear is not a justification. It is an excuse. Here, fear was the excuse for a carriage full of people to watch on as one man ‘calmly’ choked another. That fear was fed by the fact that Neely was visibly homeless, visibly mentally ill, and visibly Black. As Crenshaw acutely put it, none of those facts are crimes, and none warranted the loss of a life.
Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse
Featured image via Youtube/Democracy Now
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