Photo: Jordan Neely, who was known to many subway riders as a talented Michael Jackson impersonator
On May 1, Jordan Neely, a 30-year-old Black man, was murdered on a northbound F train in Manhattan. Just a few minutes before, Neely, who was homeless, began yelling in the subway car, visibly frustrated and pushed to the brink over the lack of regard other passengers had shown him. “I don’t have food! I don’t have a drink,” Neely exclaimed. “I don’t care if I go to jail, and if they give me life in prison … I am ready to die.”
Neely had not attacked anyone on the train or behaved violently, yet he was restrained and put into a chokehold by a 24-year-old white ex-Marine, whose name has not yet been released by police. Two other passengers helped to hold Neely down, a freelance journalist recorded his last minutes of life on his camera phone, and other riders watched as the assailant strangled him to death, locking him in this chokehold for a full fifteen minutes — long after he stopped struggling and his body went limp.
In an outrageous violation of justice, Neely’s killer was only briefly detained by police and questioned, and then released later that night without charge.
Immediately after this public lynching, the corporate media predictably moved to stigmatize Neely and depict this white vigilante violence as an act of heroism. The New York Post, one of the first media outlets to break the story, described Neely as an “unhinged man” and a “vagrant,” and its editorial board even painted Neely’s killer as a “Good Samaritan,” who only found himself embroiled in a “tragic” situation trying to maintain public safety. And like clockwork, it didn’t take long for outlets like Newsweek, The New York Daily News, and ABC 7 New York, among others, to excavate his criminal record — as if it was in any way relevant to his murder, or justified his public execution. Personal details of Neely have been dug up and released by the press, yet they still have not released any details on his killer.
Neely had once been a familiar face among New York City subway riders. He was a talented Michael Jackson impersonator, often performing on the subway and in Times Square, who used dance as an outlet for his struggles with depression, schizophrenia and unstable housing. After the murder of his mother in 2007, Neely’s mental health dramatically spiraled, and he never fully recovered.
Neely needed stable housing and he needed support and treatment. But because Neely was poor and Black, his life was treated as disposable while his killer walks free, hailed as a hero.
Eric Adams’s war against New York City’s homeless
Let’s be clear: White vigilante violence killed Jordan Neely, but his murder is also one of Mayor Eric Adams’ own making. It is the logical outcome of the city’s callous lack of resources directed toward housing and social services, abandoning tens of thousands of New Yorkers to fend for themselves in a struggle for survival. And it’s no surprise that homelessness disproportionately affects those communities most exploited by capitalism: 58% of those in New York City homeless shelters are Black, while 31% are Latino.
A crisis is currently underway in New York City, as the end of the COVID eviction moratorium and pandemic emergency rental assistance programs — coupled with higher and higher cost of living — has opened a “floodgate” of evictions across the boroughs. In 2022, over 100,000 families were served eviction notices from their landlords. This eviction crisis then feeds directly into the city’s existing homelessness crisis. While landlords withhold vacant apartments to create an artificial scarcity to jack up rental prices, 68,884 homeless people — including 21,805 children — slept in New York City’s main municipal shelter system in December 2022, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.
The Adams administration offers no solution to this compounding crisis of homelessness. It only seeks to push the unhoused away from public visibility. Since taking office in 2022, Adams has aggressively pushed forward with his controversial homeless encampment sweeps and involuntary hospitalization of people deemed to be mentally unstable. Adams’s Subway Safety Plan funneled even more NYPD officers into the subways, where they roam stations and trains arresting people for such trivial offenses as fare evasion, loitering and sleeping in subway cars. In 2022, Adams cut $615 million from New York City’s Department of Homeless Services — a staggering 20% of its entire budget. With this slashing of social services, the police become frontline responders. Instead of providing safe housing, the system puts the homeless in jail.
This crackdown on poverty has been accompanied by Adams’s own “crime wave” propaganda campaign that depicts the homeless as dangers to society, who must be removed from public life for the collective safety of all New Yorkers. This manufactured panic obscures two things: first, that even by the NYPD’s own numbers, “transit crimes” are down 8% from last year; and second, statistically, homeless people are much more likely to be victims of violent assaults than perpetrators. In fact, the number of homeless people murdered in New York City increased by 300 percent from 2018 to 2021.
Undoubtedly, the Adams administration’s racist fearmongering over homelessness was a contributing factor behind Neely’s murder. When the unhoused and mentally unstable are depicted as a societal danger, whatever violence inflicted upon them — whether by police or white vigilantes — are always justified in the name of public safety. In America, your race and your relation to property can bring a death sentence.
Justice for Jordan! People’s needs over profits!
In the fight for justice for Jordan Neely, we demand that charges immediately be brought against Neely’s murderer. We also raise the demand for a major investment in public services and secure housing for the city’s most vulnerable. But we also recognize that fundamentally these issues cannot be solved by capitalism — a system of exploitation which treats housing as a commodity, criminalizes poverty to funnel Black and Brown communities into the prison system, and relies on racist police as front line defenders of private property. These inherent features of capitalism can only be resolved through socialism — an entirely new economic system which places the needs of the people before profit. Take to the streets to demand justice for Jordan and all victims of racist violence!