Daniel Penny, 24, Marine veteran and student. White. Jordan Neely, 30, a street performer with mental health issues and a history of violence toward strangers. Black.
Fateful encounter in the New York subway on May 1. According to witnesses, Neely enters a subway car and yells at other passengers, “I don’t have food, I don’t have a drink, I’m fed up. I don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison. I’m ready to die. I could kill a motherf…………” According to witnesses, he takes off his jacket and throws it to the ground, and also throws trash at passengers.
Penny, concerned that the situation could spiral out of control, takes action. Assisted by two other concerned passengers (Black and Hispanic), Penny takes Neely to the ground, wrapping his legs around Neely’s waist and one arm around his neck in what is called a choke-hold, a technique taught to law enforcement and military to immobilise a threat, a technique that is garnering more and more criticism, and banned in some places.
As result of the brief encounter, Neely ends up dead, despite CPR performed by police and Emergency Medical Services as soon as they can arrive on the scene and enter the subway car. Penny is arraigned on reckless manslaughter charges.
I ride the subway less than I used to. Despite increased police presence, you just don’t know what you will encounter down there. On my way to an afternoon church event, I wait for the train next to the ticket booth for safety reasons. During my short 5-minute wait, 3 people leap over the turnstile to beat the fare.
Changing trains on another trip, I watch someone talking to himself and dancing and weaving dangerously close to the edge of the platform above the tracks.
Returning from the Bronx at 9 pm, I notice the train across the tracks from me is unable to leave the station, due to an agitated man ensconced between cars. He is waving his arms, yelling, and refusing to come out from his precarious perch.
Over two dozen people have been shoved in the subway over the past year either onto the tracks or against the train, at least two fatally. Crime rates have shot up, and fatal attacks of all kinds on the subway have doubled or tripled since 2020. While fatalities used to be one or two a year, now it’s seven or eight. In April 2022, a man threw smoke grenades and then fired 33 bullets inside a New York subway car, miraculously not killing anyone but wounding ten, and leaving other passengers suffering from smoke inhalation. The perpetrator was arrested the next day near a McDonald’s a few blocks down the street from me.
Democrats, who run both New York City and the state of New York, tell us that these are isolated incidents, headline grabbers, and we shouldn’t be overly worried. Still, we can see with our own eyes that things aren’t the way they were, and it’s unsettling.
Was Jordan Neely a victim of racism? Some say that if he had been white, the situation would never have unfolded the way it did. How big of a threat was Neely? Was Daniel Penny a hero or a reckless killer?
Even before the full facts are in, politicians of all stripes are using the incident as grist for their political mills.
And what should we do about the mentally ill? Even the mayor is dancing around the idea of involuntary commitments to allow such individuals to get help, something their own families often beg for. For most Americans, this idea is anathema – individual freedoms have long been paramount here – but on the other hand the current situation is dangerous both for those suffering from mental illness and for the general public.
Crime rates have risen above ground too. Over the past year or so I witnessed two arrests on my own block, and one altercation between drugstore employees and a man on a bike that spilled out into onto the sidewalk as I started to walk by. And I live in a “good” neighborhood in New York City.
In another drugstore I frequent, even items such as laundry detergent and the more expensive brands of shampoo are now under lock and key. I’m choosing my shampoo now on the basis of how easy it is to get off the shelf.
The new progressive trend is toward bail elimination. That is, those arrested for all but the most serious crimes will not be held pending payment of bail (which many cannot afford) but released under their own recognisance, and often charges will be downgraded or even dropped – even for repeat offenders or such crimes as bank robbery or gun charges. On the one hand, I am sympathetic. The opportunity to be bailed out should not depend on a person’s finances. And I would hate to see a young man’s life spiral downward after getting involved in one foolish action or altercation, which does happen. On the other hand, many believe that these bail reforms are a major factor in the undeniable rise in crime in the streets and on the subways.
These are knotty problems. And they are reflected nationwide in many other American cities. America is currently polarised and our visions are polarised – on the one hand, trying to find ways to help the disadvantaged and the unstable; on the other hand, protecting the general public.
Human justice is not the same as God’s justice, a perfect combination of justice, mercy, and creativity. But I think we could try a little harder, and move a little closer toward that goal. It would help if we could get past party politics, partisan grandstanding, and mutual animosity.