The death of a 30-year-old black man after he was strangled by a white passenger on a Manhattan subway while suffering from an apparent mental health episode has been ruled a homicide — prompting criticism and demonstrations that calls for the arrest of the passenger.
Jordan Neely died Monday on a subway train in New York City. Neely yelled and left when he was taken to the floor by another passenger — a 24-year-old Marine identified by the New York Times — who was questioned and released after allegedly telling authorities the passengers felt threatened. The man, whom 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 the train who shot video that captured the incident, said the victim cried out about being hungry and thirsty, the Times reported.
“‘I don’t want to go to jail and get 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 was never 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 severe. He was schizophrenic, PTSD. The doctors knew his condition and he had to be treated for it.”
Christie Neely’s ex-boyfriend, Shawn Southerland, was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison. At Southerland’s trial, Jordan Neely testified that he did not get to say goodbye to his mother on the morning of April 4 before school because Southerland had blocked his way to her bedroom. Jordan Neely testified that Southerland had moved out that day.
Jordan Neely’s death led to 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 of the Manhattan District Attorney.
“Everyone in our city and nation should reflect on what this incident represents and says about us,” she said in a statement. “Racism, which continues to permeate throughout our society, allows for a level of dehumanization that denies Black people recognition as victims when they are subjected to acts of violence. Black people’s perceptions have long been interpreted through a distorted, racialized lens that aims to justify violence against us. It is yet another example of how far we are from a fair and just society.”
“Let’s be clear: Any mental health challenges that Jordan may have experienced were no reason for his life to be taken,” the statement also said. “The initial response of our justice system to this killing is disturbing and shows the world the double standard that black people and 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 called for calm while the investigation unfolds.
“Let’s let the DA conduct its investigation with the law enforcement officials,” he said. “To really interfere in 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 if he thought it was appropriate for passengers to take matters into their own hands, he said that every situation is different.
“We have so many cases of passengers helping other riders,” he said. “And we don’t know exactly what happened here. The investigation is thorough and every situation is different. I was a former transit police officer and I responded to many jobs where you had a passenger helping somebody. So we can’t just blatantly say what a passenger should or should not do in such a situation and we should let the investigation take its course.”
A Manhattan DA spokesman said in a statement that prosecutors conducted a rigorous investigation that included reviewing the medical examiner’s report, evaluating 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 further public information to share.”
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