Can’t Breathe on the F TrainThe killing of Jordan Neely.
The F is my train. The New York City subway line’s Second Avenue stop is one short block from my Lower East Side crib. The F flings me to the Blue Note for jazz, Central Park for SummerStage, the Museum of Modern Art for Picasso, Coney Island for sand, 42nd Street for theater, NYU for work, then back home to the L.E.S., where charismatic and creative people still define the neighborhood’s soulful vibe.
I see charismatic and creative people performing on the F Train. A man might walk through the sliding doors, sit on his amp and lay down some heavy 12-bar blues. Another cat might stroll in with a soprano saxophone already raised to his lips. If the train isn’t too crowded, a Litefeet dancer might use a passenger pole as a prop with such athletic style and attitude that afterwards the audience is compelled to drop money in his Yankees cap. Some F Train dancers skip the King Step and Aunt Jackie and instead rock King Michael Jackson moves. Moonwalking for their supper. Spinning for a sequined glove handout.
Jordan Neely preferred the King of Pop as performance inspiration. Unfortunately, I will never see Jordan Neely moonwalk live.
Because he was killed.
Killed for being tired, thirsty and hungry.
“I don’t have any food,” Neely yelled, according to eyewitness and videographer Juan Alberto Vazquez. Then he threw down his jacket on the F train floor and said, “I’m tired of having nothing.” I suspect that in the mind of Daniel Penny, Jordan Neely’s Blackness transformed his thirst, hunger, houselessness, poverty, and “aggressive” jacket-removal into a menacing threat.
According to witnesses, Penny, a former Marine, came up from behind Neely and put the Michael Jackson impersonator in a rear chokehold.
According to Penny’s public listing of professional skills — and battle-ready rhetoric — Penny is a trained killer. Penny’s LinkedIn page mentions his advanced Marine assault training course and one of his Marine Corps job titles: infantry assaultman.
Eyewitness Vazquez said Neely never directly threatened Penny or anyone else on the F train. However, Penny’s attorney, Thomas Kenniff, (Republican candidate for Manhattan district attorney in 2021), released a statement that said, “When Mr. Neely began aggressively threatening Daniel Penny and the other passengers, Daniel, with the help of others, acted to protect themselves, until help arrived.”
We’ve heard this before. The white man, trained to kill, says he feared for his life.
In Vazquez’s video of the assault, it’s Neely who looks afraid.
It’s Neely who looks as if he needs help. Neely was fighting for breath as an infantry-trained assaultman applied a deadly chokehold.
Why didn’t someone help Jordan Neely? Why didn’t someone give him a sandwich, a drink, a hug, a smile, a hand — a helping hand?
Why did the police give Penny,the vigilante, a helping hand instead? Why did they protect his identity after releasing him without charging him?
Public defender Eli Northrup thought the law enforcement approach in the Penny case was odd. The policy director for the criminal defense practice at the Bronx Defenders said, “The practice is to arrest and charge first, ask questions later, especially when the person being arrested is Black, Brown, or poor.”
Jordan Neely was Black and poor when he boarded the F Train at the Second Avenue station on May 1. One block from my crib. He was heading north like I do when I’m heading up to the Blue Note two stops away. The jazzy Michael Jackson impersonator only made it one stop north to the Broadway-Lafayette station. Twenty-four-year-old Penny — with his whole life in front of him — made sure Jordan’s would go no further. Who knows how far north Jordan was planning to go that day, or how far north he was planning to go in his life?
Penny choking Neely put an end to those questions by putting an end to breath and life.
A prior death already had strangled Jordan Neely’s life before a Marine got to him. In 2007, Jordan’s mother Christine Neely was killed by her live-in boyfriend, Shawn Southerland. Jordan, 14 at the time, was devastated and sank into a deep depression that led to years of emotional instability and ultimately led to his houselessness.
Speaking to CNN, Neely’s artist friend Moses Harper said, “[Jordan] told me about how much his mother’s passing impacted him. 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. This kid has cried in front of me. That hurt him in his heart.”
Teenage Jordan was a key witness at the trial. Testifying about the intense domestic violence in the relationship, Jordan said he saw the couple “fight every day.” Those daily fights contributed to conditions that found Neely on my F train fighting for his life in professional killer Daniel Penny’s chokehold.
Teenage Jordan Neely had done good by his mother. His courageous testimony was a critical component in a conviction that sentenced his mother’s domestic abuser to 30 years. Jordan Neely’s beloved mother was choked to death by her boyfriend Shawn Southerland. Will Jordan Neely get justice for being choked to death by Daniel Penny?Wait, before you go…
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