The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Troubled Homeless Man Cries for Help, Gets Choked to Death

May 15, 2023

On May 1, Jordan Neely, a 30-year-old black homeless man, boarded a New York City subway train and began shouting. “I don’t have food, I don’t have a drink, I’m fed up", he screamed and added, "I don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison. I’m ready to die."

Daniel Penny, a 24-year-old white ex-Marine, walked up to Neely from behind and put him in a chokehold and took him to the floor of the train. Video from a passenger on the train shows other riders helping to subdue Neely when he tried to free himself. Penny kept Neely in the chokehold for several minutes until he stopped breathing and went limp. Even then, Penny did not immediately let him go. When he finally did, others attempted to revive Neely, without success. Police arrived only when the train reached the next station, and soon after Neely was pronounced dead.

The chokehold is a technique known to cut off someone’s blood supply in seconds, yet Penny maintained his hold on Neely for several minutes. None of the passengers on the train saw fit to intervene to keep Neely from dying.

The cops talked to Penny on the night of the killing, but then let him go. In the days that followed, many people protested that Penny was not charged. Only after 11 days did the cops, under the direction of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, arrest Penny on a charge of second-degree manslaughter.

Juan Alberto Vázquez, a freelance journalist who recorded what happened, said Neely "didn’t seem like he wanted to hurt anyone." Neely never directly contacted Penny in any way prior to Penny putting him into the chokehold.

Neely had been homeless for years and his mental health struggles were well known to homeless outreach workers in the city. Neely’s mother was brutally murdered by her boyfriend when he was just 14 years old. In high school, Neely found an outlet by impersonating Michael Jackson and after dropping out of school became known at subway stations for performing as Jackson as a way to earn money.

The killing of Jordan Neely, the failures of others to intervene and the treatment of the man who killed him by legal authorities show a lot about this society. It’s the story of someone left on his own at a very young age, forced to scramble to survive in a society incapable of caring for the mentally ill, in which it’s considered acceptable when someone is obviously crying out for help, for someone to choke the life out of him.

A society that treats the lives of so many poor homeless as worthless and disposable. A society that treats humans this way is one that needs to be tossed aside.