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New York City demands justice for Jordan Neely!

By Briony Smith

New York, NY – A wave of protests took place across New York City last week in response to the public murder of Jordan Neely on the NYC subway. Neely’s death shocked New Yorkers already angry over skyrocketing rents, callous city officials and a violent, militarized police force. Thousands took to the streets to demand justice for Neely, the arrest and prosecution of his killer, and the protection of our unhoused and mentally ill community members.

On Monday, May 1, Jordan Neely, a 30-year-old Black man well known throughout the city for his performances as a Michael Jackson impersonator in Times Square, was tired, thirsty and hungry. Jordan was one of the roughly 100,000 people in New York City who experience homelessness each year. Like many of those people, he was on a subway train, a common place for unhoused people in New York to sleep and panhandle. Neely was fed up with being ignored and was emotionally distraught. And for that, Daniel Penny, a 24-year-old ex-Marine, decided that Jordan deserved to die.

The brutal video captured by other passengers on the train shows Daniel Penny kill Jordan by holding him in a chokehold for 15 minutes. When the police arrived, Jordan was pronounced dead, and on Wednesday, May 3, the city office of the chief medical examiner ruled his death a homicide. Yet after police interviewed Daniel Penny, he was released without charges.

In a statement, the New York Community Action Project (NYCAP), a Brooklyn-based organization fighting police crimes, spoke on behalf of all outraged New Yorkers saying, “Neely needed help, not violence, and now he is no longer alive due to the violent actions of a man the police are protecting by letting him walk free.”

Jordan’s death comes in the midst of a trifecta of mounting crises in New York City.

New York City already tops the list as the most expensive city for renters in the United States. But the day after Jordan’s murder, the city’s Rent Guidelines Board approved rent increases of up to 7% for rent-stabilized apartments—the steepest rent hike in a decade. Yet even this is down from the board’s initial proposal of a staggering 16%, a figure so outrageous that it sparked protest from both tenant supporters and from five city councilors.

At a time when working-class families are already struggling to survive inflation and economic recession, the rent hikes threaten to leave even more people throughout the city without stable housing. So, for many New Yorkers, Jordan Neely evokes the very immediate risk of impending homelessness.

Jordan Neely was just one of the tens of thousands of New Yorkers sleeping in the streets, the subway, and city shelters each night who ex-cop Mayor Eric Adams has made it his mission to persecute. 2022 was the deadliest year on record for NYC’s unhoused population – a fact that can be directly attributed to Adams’ relentlessly anti-poor and anti-people policies.

Since taking office, Adams has been extremely vocal about his administration’s sweeps of homeless encampments. During these violent and traumatizing sweeps, unhoused people are forced to flee the locations where they are living, usually while their personal possessions are confiscated or destroyed. Between March and October of 2022, the city attacked over 3000 encampments, or 14 locations a day.

At the same time, Adams and his collaborator, Governor Kathy Hochul, also cracked down on people taking shelter in the subway system. Particularly during the sweltering summer and freezing winter months, the subway system offers a relatively safe, temperature controlled place for people to sleep and live. But beginning in 2022, Adams and Hochul flooded the subway system with over 1000 additional NYPD officers explicitly directed to target unhoused people and force them to leave the trains and subway stations. On the F train line in Manhattan, where Neely was murdered, it is common to see over a dozen police officers in a single station.

As if this weren’t enough, Adams doubled down even further on his assault on poor and unhoused people in November of 2022, when he empowered the NYPD to forcibly institutionalize people who are deemed “unable to meet their basic needs,” including in cases where the police “cannot overcome the person’s unawareness of their own illness.” Far from prioritizing mental health treatments, the initiative was a clear escalation of the city’s efforts to sweep the homelessness crisis out of public view by sidestepping people’s legal rights.

In this atmosphere of heightening hostility towards unhoused and mentally ill people, it was always only a matter of time before something like Jordan Neely’s murder happened. The Adams administration’s fear-mongering policies primed the city not only for the vigilante violence of Daniel Penny, but also for the inaction of the other train passengers who failed to intervene in Jordan’s defense.

In the days since Neely died, spontaneous and organized protests have occurred throughout New York City. On Wednesday, May 3, protesters occupied the Broadway Lafayette subway station where Jordan was killed. The next day, people gathered at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and marched to demand justice, and again on Friday hundreds of protesters rallied in Washington Square Park.

NYCAP articulated both the outrage and the determination permeating the city. “This is yet another example of the city’s carelessness toward Black and unhoused people. NYCAP stands in full solidarity with Jordan Neely and calls for the arrest and trial of his killer, as well as demanding full accountability for the cops who refused to arrest him. Fire killer cops!”

#NeyYorkCityNY #NewYorkCityNY #PoliceBrutality #JordanNeely