The death of a 30-year-old Black man after he was put in a chokehold by a white passenger on a subway in Manhattan while suffering an apparent mental health episode has been ruled a homicide — and prompted criticism and demonstrations calling for the passenger’s arrest.
Jordan Neely died Monday on a subway train in New York City. Neely was reportedly shouting and pacing when he was taken down to the floor by another passenger — a 24-year-old Marine identified by the New York Times — who was questioned and released after reportedly telling authorities that passengers felt threatened. That man, who authorities have not officially identified, has not been charged with a crime, the Times reported. The medical examiner has ruled Neely’s death a homicide.
Juan Alberto Vazquez, a freelance journalist riding on the train who shot video capturing the incident, said the victim was yelling about being hungry and thirsty, the Times reported.
“‘I don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison,'” Vazquez recalled him saying, according to the paper. “‘I’m ready to die.'”
Neely’s aunt, Carolyn Neely, wrote on the family’s GoFundMe page that he was a “very talented black man who loves to dance” and had many fans. He was known as a Michael Jackson impersonator.
“Performance was his thing,” she wrote. “He has so many fans, he will always be loved and remembered. We love you Jordan.”
The New York Post reported that Jordan Neely sank into a deep depression after his mother, Christie Neely, was strangled to death in April 2007 by her ex-boyfriend. Christie Neely’s body was found in a suitcase on the Henry Hudson Parkway in New York.
“My sister Christie was murdered in ’07, and after that, he has never been the same,” Carolyn Neely said, according to the Post. “It had a big impact on him. He developed depression, and it grew and became more serious. He was schizophrenic, PTSD. Doctors knew his condition, and he needed to be treated for that.”
Christie Neely’s ex-boyfriend, Shawn Southerland, was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison. At Southerland’s trial, Jordan Neely testified he did not get to say goodbye to his mom the morning of April 4 before school because Southerland had blocked his path to her bedroom. Jordan Neely testified that Southerland had moved out that day.
Jordan Neely’s death prompted protests calling for justice and discussions about race, mental health and homelessness.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that his death was a murder.
Adrienne Adams, the speaker of the New York City Council, called for accountability and a thorough investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney.
“Everyone in our city and nation should be reflecting on what this incident represents and says about us,” she said in a statement. “Racism that continues to permeate throughout our society allows for a level of dehumanization that denies Black people from being recognized as victims when subjected to acts of violence. The perceptions of Black people have long been interpreted through a distorted, racialized lens that aims to justify violence against us. It is another example of how far we remain from an equitable and just society.”
“Let’s be clear: any possible mental health challenges that Jordan may have been experiencing were no reason for his life to be taken,” the statement also said. “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.”
In an interview on CNN, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said judgments about the incident were irresponsible and asked for calm as the investigation unfolds.
“Let’s let the DA conduct his investigation with the law enforcement officials,” he said. “To really interfere with that is not the right thing to do, and I’m going to be responsible and allow them to do their job and allow them to determine exactly what happened here.”
When a CNN host asked Adams whether he thought it was appropriate for passengers to take matters into their own hands, he said each situation is different.
“We have so many cases where passengers assist other riders,” he said. “And we don’t know exactly what happened here. The investigation is thorough, and each situation is different. I was a former transit police officer, and I responded to many jobs where you had a passenger assisting someone. And so we cannot just blatantly say what a passenger should or should not do in a situation like that, and we should allow the investigation to take its course.”
A Manhattan DA spokesperson said in a statement that prosecutors were conducting a rigorous investigation that included reviewing the Medical Examiner’s report, assessing all available video and photo footage, identifying and interviewing as many witnesses as possible, and obtaining additional medical records.
“This is a solemn and serious matter that ended in the tragic loss of Jordan Neely’s life,” the statement said. “This investigation is being handled by senior, experienced prosecutors, and we will provide an update when there is additional public information to share.”
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