No to white vigilantism! Why did Jordan Neely’s murderer go free?

Workers World Party condemns the heinous murder of 30-year-old Jordan Neely on May 1 in a New York City subway. What happened to Neely was nothing more than a public lynching, reminiscent of the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minn. Neely’s death was recorded even as he was being held in a chokehold for at least seven minutes and thereby asphyxiated, while two of his killer’s accomplices held him down. 

Jordan Neely.

Neely, a well-known Black houseless subway entertainer, was killed by a 24-year-old white Marine veteran, Daniel Penny. The New York Police Department (NYPD) brought Penny in for “questioning” and then released him.

Protests spontaneously occurred in Manhattan and Brooklyn once it came to light that Penny, a white vigilante, had not been arrested or charged with anything. Activists vowed to keep the protests going until there is justice for Neely. Workers World Party applauds all forms of mass protest, including the blocking of a subway on May 6 to express righteous outrage over this inhumane act.  

May 5 protest organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, NYC. WW Photo: Toni Arenstein

Not an isolated incident 

Collusion between the police and white vigilantism is nothing new.  There are instances too numerous to mention that substantiate this claim, but here are three perfect examples.  

Protesters block subway line demanding justice for Jordan Neely, May 6. (Photo: Instagram/hawk.newsome)

After a 25-year-old Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, was fatally shot by two Ku Klux Klan sympathizers while jogging in Brunswick, Ga., on Feb. 23, 2020, it took months before the district attorney arrested the father and son responsible, as well as the person who recorded the assault. These arrests came about only after community mass pressure demanded them. The racists, Travis McMichael and Gregory McMichael, are now serving life sentences.   

Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was hunted down and shot to death on Feb. 12, 2012, by a wanna-be-cop vigilante, George Zimmerman, in a gated community in Sanford, Florida.  Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal helped to ignite the Black Lives Matter struggle, which continues today.

Kyle Rittenhouse, an 18-year-old white vigilante, was tried and acquitted on Nov. 20, 2021, for the murder of two anti-racists, 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and 26-year-old Anthony Huber, and the attempted murder of a third, Gaige Grosskreutz, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  

The shootings by Rittenhouse took place during a protest against the Aug. 25, 2020, police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 27-year-old Black man, who had been shot seven times in the back, leaving him paralyzed. The police allowed an openly armed Rittenhouse to walk freely during the protest before and after the shootings. The judge put the victims on trial by characterizing them as “looters” and “arsonists” to support the false view that Rittenhouse’s actions were justified as self-defense. This was a classic case of the police and the courts working hand-in-hand with the racists.  

Stigmatizing mental illness and homelessness 

Jordan Neely suffered from being houseless and living with mental illness. Before his murder, he was yelling on the subway that he was hungry, thirsty and tired of living. Should these societal ills have triggered a death warrant for him?  NO!!

It is no secret that those who suffer the trauma of being mentally disabled and without shelter are the most vulnerable to police and vigilante terror, especially if they are Black. Why? Because they have been labeled as dangerous, irrational, less than human and therefore expendable.   

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of New York, the 2023 budget for the city’s police department is $11 billion, the largest by far compared to other police departments in the U.S. This is a travesty, considering that city hospitals like St. Vincent’s, once known for providing vital mental health facilities, have closed their doors to these life-and-death services.

Profit-hungry landlords who represent the interests of multibillion-dollar real estate developers are now demanding a 15 percent rise in rents that are already unaffordable.  Unless there is a sustained mass movement, this increase will only lead to more mentally ill houseless people surviving on the streets and in subway stations, winding up in jail, or losing their lives, like Neely. 

The police, along with the city administration, are more concerned about protecting the profits of Wall Street bankers and bosses than the well-being of the many people like Jordan Neely.  

Fund human needs, not police repression

Jordan Neely would still be alive today if he had a union job, housing, health care and nutritious food – which all New Yorkers deserve. The only solution to this crisis is to abolish the NYPD and take that $11 billion to fund all the needs that human beings have a right to. And in order to abolish the police, there must be a socialist revolution to abolish capitalism, because, as the popular street chant says, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell!”

Workers World Party

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