Arresting Neely killer was right


To the editor:

Jordan Neely’s life was violently ended by a fellow New York City subway rider in what U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has rightly called a “public murder.”

Neely was a gifted dancer and subway busker, a Michael Jackson impersonator. He was described by many who knew him as a warm and loving man. In 2007, when Neely was 14, his mother disappeared. After three days, her strangled, decapitated body was found under an overpass on the southbound side of the Henry Hudson Parkway in Riverdale. She had been abducted, murdered, and dumped by her boyfriend.

Jordan Neely, who was Black, struggled with mental health issues, and was at times unhoused and hungry. On May 1, as Neely rode on a subway train, he is alleged to have “ranted” about being tired, hungry and “fed up.” For those statements — and for making some in his subway car uncomfortable — he was put in a chokehold by a white ex-Marine and murdered in a manner disgustingly reminiscent of the lynchings of George Floyd and Eric Garner.

Except that this murder of a Black person with mental health challenges was conducted by a private citizen rather than a cop. By a vigilante private citizen, rather than a vigilante police officer.

Despite public outcry about the killing of Neely — including by Gov. Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams says he will await the conclusion of a New York Police Department investigation.

As of this writing, five days after the murder, no criminal charge has been filed against the ex-Marine, although he was later charged with second-degree manslaughter.

The violently barbaric treatment of people in mental health “crisis” by armed authorities and by private citizens disgusts me. What “mental health crisis” was Neely, in fact, experiencing, in giving voice to his despair, his frustration, his hunger? Are these not rational, healthy responses to unacceptable treatment, to years of suffering in a toxic society?

The fear and loathing of Black and brown people by so many white people disgusts me. The ex-Marine is a danger to others. Neely was not. The ex-Marine belongs behind bars. At the age of 30, Jordan Neely is in a body bag.

Vigilante violence must not be condoned. Police violence must not be condoned. Systematic, radical changes to our judicial systems and to our policies and treatment of those with mental health challenges are urgently needed. The criminalization of poverty and of non-white bodies must end.

We need non-carceral systems of public safety and harm reparation, systems that do not create and aggravate mental health challenges. We need to defund the police and fund marginalized communities.

I urge readers of this paper to explore abolition organizing, and ways that they can support it.

Jennifer Scarlott


The author is coordinator of North Bronx Racial Justice

Jordan Neely, manslaughter, subway, mental health, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Marine,