Ayyyeee… What’s Goodie Everyone. So I got some hot tea and it involves a murder that allegedly happened on a New York City subway.
The death of a Jordan Neely a New York City subway rider who was placed in a chokehold by another passenger on Monday was ruled a homicide, the city’s medical examiner confirmed on Wednesday evening. The man who died, was homeless and had been screaming at passengers when the other rider wrapped his arms around Neely’s neck and head and held him for several minutes until he went limp. Neely died from compression to his neck as a result of the chokehold, according to Julie Bolcer, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner. The killing, on an F train in Manhattan, has led to investigations by both the police and prosecutors, a spokesman for Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg said. As of Wednesday afternoon, nobody had been arrested.
On Monday, a man who was riding in the same subway car went up to Neely, a 30-year-old Michael Jackson impersonator who was yelling that he was hungry and ready to die. The 24-year-old man who choked Neely has not been identified. The episode, filmed on a nearly four minute video that shows other riders helping to pin down Neely while others looked on, has led to a police investigation and spurred advocates for the homeless, city officials, and others to call for an arrest. New York Governor Kathy Hochul said she needed to review the incident more closely but called the man’s death troubling. “It was deeply disturbing,” she told reporters. The incident comes as the city grapples with how to reduce both crime and the number of people with mental illness living on the streets, while also respecting the rights of its most vulnerable residents. The two issues have become the twin focuses of New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who has sent more police to patrol train stations and to sweep homeless encampments even as he has supported policies that offer a “gentler” approach to the Mentally ill and homeless.
Any criminal case could come down to whether the man who placed the rider in a chokehold was justified in using force, according to legal specialists. Under New York law, a person may use physical force on another person if they have a reasonable belief that it is necessary to defend themselves or others. But a person can only use deadly physical force if they have reason to believe that an attacker is doing or about to do the same. The police and prosecutors must determine what the intentions of the rider were when he grabbed Neely, if the rider felt physically threatened and if other passengers believed they had a reason to fear for their safety, said Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office. “The District Attorney’s office is going to do a painstaking investigation where they are going to interview every witness and look at the video frame by frame,” she said.
Mayor Eric Adams called the death “tragic,” and said “there’s a lot we don’t know about what happened here.” He added, “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.” There were signs that the debate about the outcome had already begun. On CNN, the mayor urged caution, rebutting a statement by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that Neely had been “murdered.” He added: “I don’t think that’s very responsible at the time where we’re still investigating the situation. Let’s let the D.A. conduct his investigation with the law enforcement officials.”
Adrienne Adams, the City Council speaker, said in a statement that the legal system’s initial response to Neely’s killing was disturbing, and put “on display for the world the double standards that Black people and other people of color continue to face,” adding: “The perceptions of Black people have long been interpreted through a distorted, racialized lens that aims to justify violence against us.”
The reaction of bystanders reflects what can happen to many when they witness a crisis, said Lee Ann DeShong-Cook, assistant professor of social work at Juniata College. They “were experiencing various levels of fight, flight or freeze,” she said, adding, “had someone simply offered the homeless man a bottle of water or a snack he might have been able to calm down, re-engage his rational brain and would still be alive today.” Workers from the Bowery Residents Committee, which does homeless outreach in the subways, had known Neely since 2017, according to a person familiar with his history with social services. A team had spotted him on the subway as recently as March 22. He appeared to be struggling with both mental illness and substance use disorder, according to his records. At one point, he lived at a safe-haven shelter, which has more privacy and fewer restrictions than other shelters.
Until recent years, the subway was where Neely had felt happy and free to perform as a dancer, said his friend, Moses Harper, an artist who met Neely in 2009, when he was 16 years old. Neely would dress up as Michael Jackson during his “Thriller” stage and ride the trains, moon-walking in front of commuters. Neely and Harper, who also impersonates Michael Jackson, bonded over being street artists. Harper said she lost touch with Neely until she saw him again on a cold day in 2016, walking through subway cars with his head down.
The two left the station and walked several blocks together, talking. She gave him her shirt, some food, and told him where she lived.
Harper said she urged him to come find her when he was ready to get help. “He said, ‘I’m going to get it together,’” she said. “And that’s the last time I saw him.” Emon Thompson, 30, who lives in Jamaica, Queens, said she first saw Neely about two weeks ago at around 1 a.m. after she boarded an F train in Lower Manhattan. “He was very upset at the time, and most of us just looked at him,” Thompson recalled. “He said he needed help and kept repeating the words, ‘food, shelter, I need a job.” Thompson saw him again a week later, at about 8 p.m., when she and her 8-year-old son were on a Manhattan-bound F train. She said she gave him some money and he thanked her “for five minutes.”
Credit: New York Times. The Washington Post.