There is no reason to equivocate about it: there is no justification whatsoever for the brutal killing of Jordan Neely.
Nearly a decade since the police killing of Eric Garner in a chokehold, and three years since the police murder of George Floyd, Mr. Neely’s death at the hands of a white man on a NYC subway train make clear how little has changed.
The Black Lives Matter movement has made poignantly clear whose lives American society prioritizes, and whose lives are systematically devalued. Black men are a target not only for police violence, but for white vigilante violence, as is clear in Mr. Neely’s killing, and as in the deaths of so many other Black men.
In New York City, violence against homeless people is now an epidemic, with multiple high-profile murders of people bedding down in public. This violence has coincided with NYC Mayor Adams’ push for a new wave of racist “broken windows” policing, while framing the presence of homeless people as “disorder” that must be cleared. Dehumanizing and stigmatizing rhetoric from the current administration, combined with criminalization and harassment of homeless people as city policy, is likely to encourage the kind of vigilante violence we have seen.
Mr. Neely was a homeless man clearly struggling with his mental health. He was clearly very upset on a subway train, yelling that he was hungry and ready to die; he likely frightened passengers. But this in no way can justify anyone—citizen or police—choking him until he passed out and died.
Mr. Neely’s death—now ruled a homicide by the city’s medical examiner—is the direct result of horrifying decisions by the person who choked him to death. But there is also a direct link between this killing and years of panic and fear with regard to people with mental health disabilities being pushed in rhetoric and policy by New York City officials and others.
Black lives matter. Jordan Neely’s life mattered. He should still be alive and receiving the mental health care he obviously needed.