New York Officials’ Responses to the Murder of an Unhoused Man Have Been Horrible

Gov. Kathy Hochul and NYC Mayor Eric Adams both said we know too little about Jordan Neely's death to condemn it, despite literal footage of the killing.

New York Officials’ Responses to the Murder of an Unhoused Man Have Been Horrible
Photo:Getty Images

After Jordan Neely, a Black unhoused man, was killed by a fellow subway passenger in Manhattan on Monday, local officials including New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) and Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) have finally responded to Neely’s killing with statements that have frustratingly minimized it.

Three days after Neely was killed by a white, male passenger and apparent former marine, we still know little about his killer, all while the facts of Neely’s death—ruled a homicide on Wednesday—are fairly clear based on video of it. Neely appeared to be in the midst of a mental health episode and yelled to fellow passengers that he had no access to food, water, and shelter. The still-unnamed white, male passenger proceeded to needlessly strangle and overpower him for 15 minutes.

In their statements on Neely’s killing, Adams and Hochul have been unable to condemn his killing or unambiguously state that no one should kill a homeless person on the subway, and no one should be killed for having a mental health episode—a fairly simple ask. “There’s a lot we don’t know about what happened here, so I’m going to refrain from commenting further,” Adams said. “However, we do know that there were serious mental health issues at play here.” He added, “We cannot just blanketly say what a passenger should or should not do in a situation like that.”

Adams’ inability to speak clearly about the killing is in sharp contrast with other city officials’ condemnations. But as right-wing media and, predictably, right-wing billionaire Elon Musk amplify conspiracy theories and disgusting justifications for Neely’s killing, it’s dangerous and disappointing that top local and state officials like Hochul and Adams can’t unequivocally condemn it.

Adams’ statement came after Brad Lander, the city comptroller, condemned Neely’s killing and stated that New York can’t “become a city where a mentally ill human being can be choked to death by a vigilante without consequence.” Asked about Lander’s statement, Adams said he “didn’t think that’s very responsible at the time, where we’re still investigating the situation.”

Hochul also responded to Neely’s death on Wednesday without simply condemning extrajudicial civilian killings of homeless people. She stated in an interview that “people who are homeless in our subways, many of them in the throws of mental health episodes.” Hochul ultimately determined, “There are consequences for behavior. I will look at it more closely to find out whether the state has a role.” Jezebel reached out to the governor’s office for comment to clarify whether Hochul was referring to “consequences” for Neely’s “behavior” or his killer’s. A spokesperson for Hochul responded by sharing a full transcript of the interview, in which Hochul expresses sympathy for Neely’s family, but declined to label Neely’s killer as a vigilante.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) called Adams’ response to Neely’s killing a “new low” and specifically called out his comments on the importance of investing in mental health care, calling them “especially rich from an admin trying to cut the very services that could have helped him” in a tweet—a reference to how Adams’ administration’s increasing investments in policing rather than services have harmed unhoused and mentally ill people.

In addition to Lander and Ocasio-Cortez, city officials like city council speaker Adrienne Adams have had little trouble stating that Neely’s killing was wrong: “Racism that continues to permeate throughout our society allows for a level of dehumanization that denies Black people from being recognized as victims when subjected to acts of violence,” Adrienne Adams said in a statement. She added, “Let’s be clear: any possible mental health challenges that Jordan may have been experiencing were no reason for his life to be taken…There must be accountability for his killing.”

To the city council speaker’s point, it seems intentional that we know next to nothing about Neely’s killer, all while police released Neely’s entire medical and criminal history to the public, as if past crimes should justify a vigilante killing. We know only that the killer was a white, male former marine, and that early headlines framed his actions as heroic self-defense, as well as defense of fellow passengers. But we know that all Neely did was take off his jacket and yell—his actions were only perceived as threatening because he was Black and unhoused.

Beth Haroules, director of disability justice litigation at the New York Civil Liberties Union, told The Intercept’s Akela Lacy of the NYPD’s protection of Neely’s killer, “They’re acting as if this Marine was a member of the force.” Neely’s killer walked away from the scene of the crime without any issue, and without facing arrest or criminal charges. Police have since concealed all information about a man who killed someone as if Neely’s killer is the victim and not a threat to public safety.

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