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Mayor and Governor Agree: It’s Too Soon to Unequivocally Condemn Fatally Choking a Homeless Person on the Subway [UPDATED]

“We cannot just blanketly say what a passenger should or should not do in a situation like that,” Adams said on CNN Wednesday night.

NYC Mayor Eric Adams and NY Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at a press conference.

Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams on Friday, Jan 27, 2023, announcing a decrease in subway crimes and increase in customers’ feelings of safety. (Marc A. Hermann / MTA)

On Tuesday, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander reacted to news reports of the killing of Jordan Neely by a 24-year-old, reported to be a Marine veteran, who put Neely in a chokehold while both were riding the F train, using language that accurately describes what occurred.

"NYC is not Gotham. We must not become a city where a mentally ill human being can be choked to death by a vigilante without consequence," Lander wrote in a tweet

The comptroller is just one of many leading New York City officials who have responded to Neely's death with an appropriate amount of fury and outrage. Public Advocate Jumaane Williams similarly described Neely's killing as a "vigilante murder." City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, in a statement, wrote, "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." She added, "Let's be clear: any possible mental health challenges that Jordan may have been experiencing were no reason for his life to be taken…There must be accountability for his killing."

Notably missing from this chorus of voices making the obvious point that Neely should not have been killed is our mayor, who waited until Wednesday afternoon to directly comment on Neely's death. "There's a lot we don't know about what happened here, so I'm going to refrain from commenting further," Adams said. "However, we do know that there were serious mental health issues at play here," he added, a choice of words that serves to deflect blame onto a dead man for his death. (Governor Kathy Hochul also avoided any unambiguous condemnation of the killing, making a statement that instead focused on "people who are homeless in our subways, many of them in the throws of mental health episodes"—and not a man who decided to put Neely in a chokehold—as one of the "factors" at play. She continued: "There are consequences for behavior. I will look at it more closely to find out whether the state has a role.")

Not included in Mayor Adams's statement? Any words that condemn killing someone by putting them in a chokehold.

In an interview with CNN's Abby Phillip on Wednesday night, conducted after the City's medical examiner had officially declared that Neely died from the chokehold and that his death was a homicide, Adams described Neely's killing as a "terrible incident," before directly addressing assertions from his fellow elected officials that Neely's killing was an act of vigilantism.

Phillip read out Lander's words (as well as a tweet by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez where she said Neely was murdered).

"What is your response to what they're saying here?" Phillip asked Adams. 

"The comptroller's a citywide leader, and I don't think that's very responsible at the time, where we're still investigating the situation," Adams replied, before insinuating that Lander's comments were "interfering" with the Manhattan DA's investigation. 

Phillip then pressed Adams on, as she put it, "the question of vigilantism." "Is it appropriate to take matters into your own hands?" she asked him. 

Adams then seemed to paint the (still unidentified) 24-year-old who strangled Neely to death as a good Samaritan. "Each situation is different, and how a passenger...We have so many cases where passengers assist other riders. And we don't know exactly what happened here, until the investigation is thorough," he replied. "Each situation is different. I was a former transit police officer, and I responded to many jobs where you had a passenger assist someone."

He added, "We cannot just blanketly say what a passenger should or should not do in a situation like that. We should allow the investigation to take its course."

Update (May 4, 10:34 a.m.): The story has been updated to better reflect Governor Kathy Hochul's comments.

Update (May 4, 2:20 p.m.): After this story was published, Governor Hochul supplemented her previous remarks at a press conference on Thursday, which included the following comments:

"I do want to acknowledge how horrific it was to view a video of Jordan Neely being killed for being a passenger on the subway trains. And so our hearts go out to his families. I'm really pleased that the district attorney is looking into this matter. As I said, there had to be consequences, and so we'll see how this unfolds. But his family deserves justice." She added, after being asked if she agreed that the unnamed 24-year-old Marine veteran should be characterized as a vigilante, "I'm not sure what they're meaning by the word 'vigilante.' This was an individual who took the situation into his own hands, and in that sense, it would fit that description, but I don't care about labeling it. Just looking at that video, you know, it's wrong. No one has the right to take the life of another person. And in this circumstance, I have said all along and have stood firm in our commitment to helping people with mental health challenges, giving them an alternative."

Some actually helpful links:

  • There was maybe another reason Kathy Hochul got rid of her Colorado advisor Adam Sullivan so quickly—turns out he's (allegedly) a serial sexual harasser
  • A new report from the NYPD's Inspector General finds that the NYPD's bloated overtime leads to worse policing. Via the Daily News: "The odds that an officer becomes the subject of a substantiated CCRB complaint the day after working an average OT shift increases by 36.8 percent, while the odds that he or she is named in a lawsuit for a misconduct incident goes up by 36.5 percent, according to the report."
  • The WGA needs to emerge victorious from strike because I am desperate for someone to turn the family drama at Nom Wah Tea Parlor into a prestige TV series.
  • A Brooklyn cycling advocate was killed by the driver of a flatbed truck on Monday. 
  • "Shots for the Sheriffs: Raid Enforcers Busted for Allegedly Skimming Booze"
  • C'mon, Phil Murphy. Perhaps related: "Hundreds of pounds of cooked pasta mysteriously dumped in New Jersey woods"
  • Loser loses again.
  • Is there any parking garage that isn't structurally unsound?
  • Cops are continuing to handcuff kids: "New York City officials have promised for years to stop relying on police to respond to students in emotional crisis. Under the terms of a 2014 legal settlement, schools are only supposed to call 911 in the most extreme situations, when kids pose an “imminent and substantial risk of serious injury” to themselves or others. And yet an investigation by THE CITY and ProPublica found that city schools continue to call on safety agents and other police officers to manage students in distress thousands of times each year—incidents the NYPD calls “child in crisis” interventions. Unless a parent arrives in time to intercede, cops hand kids off to EMTs, who take students to hospital emergency rooms for psychiatric evaluations. In close to 1,370 incidents since 2017, students ended up in handcuffs while they waited for an ambulance to arrive, according to NYPD data. In several incidents, those kids were 5 or 6 years old."
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