Who Killed Jordan Neely?
“The governor and the mayor are complicit."
6:16 PM EDT on May 3, 2023
On Monday, New Yorker Jordan Neely, homeless, hungry, and agitated, was killed. He was strangled by a subway rider whom multiple outlets have identified as a 24-year-old Marine veteran. According to a video posted online, other subway riders either assisted the man in choking Neely, or stood passively by, taking videos on their phone.
One eyewitness said that Neely, a sometime-subway performer who often impersonated the pop star Michael Jackson, hadn't attacked anyone. He was just upset, they said.
On Wednesday afternoon, at the subway stop where he died, formerly homeless New Yorker Johnny Grima held a vigil for Neely. Inside the station, someone had scrawled on the subway tiles the phrase, "WHO KILLED JORDAN NEELY?"
To the dozens of protesters who had hastily assembled, the answer to that question was clear—they pointed their fingers at the two New York politicians who have spent the past several months leading a charge against homeless New Yorkers and moving to criminalize the city's mentally unwell—while at the same time, doing little to stem an affordability crisis in the city that leaves more people homeless, stressed, and with no good options.
"Hochul and Adams, you did this!" screamed one protestor, as police barricaded off the southern end of the Broadway-Lafayette train platform. "Fuck Eric Adams," the group of around 100 people chanted.
"The governor and the mayor are complicit, the people in the press helping their fearmongering, making people feel scared, giving $62 million in overtime to the police to just stand there on the subway, they're complicit," said Adolfo Abreu, with the group VOCAL New York. "Those $62 million could have been used to make sure that our homeless get housing." The New York Post called Neely "unhinged," and the New York Times granted the man that killed Neely the passive voice.
As police officers stood watch, with flex cuffs at the ready and bearing completely blank faces, someone in the crowd spray-painted "Jordan Was Murdered Here," on the subway platform. "What are you doing here, while a murderer walks the streets of this city," another protester screamed in a lieutenant's face.
The police, who detained and then released the man depicted on video strangling Neely, have said the investigation is "ongoing," as did a spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Mayor Eric Adams, who spent the morning after Neely died on a reactionary radio show railing against New York politicians who question the NYPD, said on Wednesday that "there's a lot we don't know that happened here," and that his administration has "made record investments" to help New Yorkers with mental health issues (while at the same time, pushing cuts citywide to vital social services). The governor deflected when asked about it at an event with Adams earlier today, and somewhat confusingly said "there's consequences for behavior," but failed to elaborate whom she was referring to. The MTA, when asked for comment, directed us back to the NYPD.
But some elected officials are already calling it a lynching, others a murder. The Medical Examiner has ruled it a "homicide."
"He had no food, no water, no safe place to rest. He had the audacity to publicly yell about that massive injustice, so they killed him," wrote State Senator Jabari Brisport.
To those angrily gathered on a narrow subway platform on Wednesday, in a city wracked with inequality and allowed to be plundered by a weak political class doing as much as they can for those that don't need it, a city where millions are squeezed out of stability, the answer to who killed Jordan Neely isn't singular. The finger points right at the top.
"The NYPD let the killer go free, and this reflects a bigger trend of the demonization of homeless people, at the same time that the NYPD is making more money, and money is being cut from housing," said Popi Sen, a protestor. "The Adams administration almost single-handedly created this homeless panic narrative, and whenever it gets ugly, they try to run from it."
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Max Rivlin-Nadler is a co-publisher of Hell Gate. He's reported for Gothamist, The New York Times, Village Voice and NPR. You can find him walking his dog, Stiva, or surfing in the Rockaways.
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