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Homeless Man Choked to Death on NYC Subway Reveals How the System Failed Him

On Monday, May 1st, a 30 year old homeless man identified as Jordan Neely was killed by a 24 year old US marine veteran Daniel Penny on the NYC Subway. According to the medical examiner this past Wednesday, Neely’s death has been ruled as a homicide. Protests broke across New York City and other parts of the nation following Neely’s murder calling for action on the homeless epidemic across the United States. Such demonstrations also highlight the abandonment of treating mental health issues specifically within the homeless population. As details of Neely’s early life came into the public eye, the root causes of widespread homelessness in the USA as well as the reality of the broken mental health system became clear. 

The incident occurred on an ‘F train’ in the Broadway-Lafayette Station in Manhattan. One eyewitness in the subway car noted that

“The man got on the subway car and began to say a somewhat aggressive speech, saying he was hungry, he was thirsty, that he didn’t care about anything, he didn’t care about going to jail, he didn’t care that he gets a big life sentence.”

Penny’s lawyers stated that when Neely began to allegedly “aggressively threaten passengers,” Penny acted to protect others not intending to kill him. Neely was placed on a chokehold for 15 minutes straight and was pronounced dead after police officers and EMT workers performed CPR. 

Details about Jordan Neely’s past came into the public eye following his murder. Neely was known by many for impersonations of Michael Jackson and performances around the city. In his teenage years, he struggled with tragedy and mental illness. According to his aunt, his mental health crisis began after his mother was murdered by his stepfather. His mother was strangled to death, and stuffed into a suitcase when he was just 14.

It traumatized him. He was not expecting that, the brutal way she was taken. That had a big impact on him. The brutality behind that, that traumatized him,” his Aunt notes.

At 18, he was left to testify on behalf of his mother. His aunt also explains that the depression he developed following that incident became more serious alongside PTSD, and that he needed to be properly treated for that. However, the intensive care she sought for her nephew was denied due to their medical insurance. Years following this incident, he began crossing paths with the police. Police reports noted he often complained about being schizophrenic, suicidal and having stomach pains. Appropriate healthcare services were not provided to Jordan Neely. 

Protests broke out across New York City and numerous cities calling for justice in light of Neely’s murder. Many of the protestors demanded criminal charges for Neely’s killer. A common theme across the demonstrations was how the system— whether the mental health care he needed from his teenage years or the social infrastructure that led him to be homeless—ultimately failed him.

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  • Sayyeda Fatima

    Sayyeda Fatima is an American current affairs writer who focuses on analyzing domestic and broader global politics from lenses not projected by Western media.

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