Jordan Neely’s Killing Reflects the Backwards Priorities of this Society

Jordan Neely dressed as Michael Jackson, performing on the streets of New York in 2009. (credit: Andrew Savulich/ New York Daily News)

The killing on May 1 of Jordan Neely, a 30-year-old unhoused Black man with a history of mental illness, on a New York City subway has sparked outcry and protests in the past couple of weeks. 

Neely was reportedly yelling on the subway when 24-year-old Daniel Penny, a former Marine, placed him in a chokehold and choked him to death in front of passengers.

Even though the entire killing was recorded on video by a passenger, New York police questioned Penny, who is white, and let him go without any charges. It wasn’t until after several days of protests and public outrage that Penny was finally charged with manslaughter and turned himself in.

Meanwhile, many right-wing politicians, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and others, have praised Penny, calling him a hero, trying to capitalize off of the all-too-common dehumanization of the unhoused, and the racism against Black people in this society.

This heinous killing of Jordan Neely highlights the brutality that is part of daily life. Neely had been unhoused for most of his adult life. His mother was murdered when he was 14. He has long suffered from mental illness. He was even on New York’s so-called “Top 50” list, a list of homeless people that officials consider in urgent need of assistance and treatment.

In addition to his tragic death, it is a tragedy that this society did not offer any legitimate medical care for his illness, or any stabilized housing. If those were available, Jordan Neely would still be alive. The fact that the city of New York is able to put Neely on a list of people in desperate need of assistance while refusing to offer any meaningful assistance underscores just how backwards the priorities of this society are.

The sad reality is that this system prioritizes the wealthy, and puts the profits of corporations above all else. This is a system that throws people away all the time, especially if they are poor, unhoused, or mentally ill. Neely was certainly killed by Daniel Penny, but he was already given a death sentence from this system for being unhoused and suffering from mental illness.