Jordan Neely and the Barbarism of American Society

Jordan Neely was killed on the MTA

Jordan Neely was 30 years old when he was murdered by a 24-year-old white former marine (all important identifiers to this story) on an F train in Manhattan on Monday. Neely, a Black man who performed as Michael Jackson in Times Square and on the subway, was homeless and desperately vocal about the trauma of his living situation right before his execution. According to a witness named Juan Alberto Vazquez, “The man got on the subway car and began to say a somewhat aggressive speech, saying he was hungry, he was thirsty, that he didn’t care about anything, he didn’t care about going to jail, he didn’t care that he gets a big life sentence. That ‘It doesn’t even matter if I died.'” Neely shouted about his hunger, his thirst, his despondence over a life of suffering on the street right before the still-unidentified white man wrapped his arms around Neely’s neck and suffocated him in a chokehold for 15 minutes. Other riders held Neely down while he was choked to death, many others simply watched on or filmed the murder as it happened. According to a report by Akela Lacy for The Intercept, “Police took the subway rider into custody briefly for questioning then released him shortly afterward.”

Neely’s murderer has been hailed by many as an honorable hero who sprung into action and defended his fellow riders from a “threatening vagrant”—an unsurprising summary of an ex-military white man who executed a Black person for no reason. Democrat New York Governor Kathy Hochul herself essentially said Neely deserved to be killed for the “crime” of yelling about his trauma when she said, “People who are homeless in our subways, many of them in the throes of mental health episodes, and that’s what I believe were some of the factors involved here. There’s consequences for behavior.” The horrific cop-loving, fear mongering New York Mayor Eric Adams added, “I was a former transit police officer, and I responded to many jobs where you had a passenger assisting someone. And so we cannot just blanketly say what a passenger should or should not do in a situation like that. We should allow the investigation to take its course.”

Jordan Neely’s murder is an aggregation of the worst parts of American society: white supremacy, anti-Blackness, militarism, anti-homelessness, capitalism-induced poverty, individualistic deputization, and punitive carcerality. Neely was hungry and thirsty and he openly declared what he needed in a public space. He was Black and homeless and in need of material resources in a public space. And instead of literally anyone giving him money or food or water or assistance, a white ex-military man took it upon himself—deputized himself—and choked the life out of Neely for 15 minutes with the assistance of others. People watched it all happen, watched this white man lynch a Black man in 2023 to stop him from crying out in desperation of the barbarism of homelessness. This white supremacist, anti-Black society allowed a white man to kill a Black man for being homeless in public and on video in 2023 right before NYPD released the killer and kept his name private. Instead, Neely’s own record was publicized, his struggles over the years causing even more glee over his murder. White supremacy lets white people walk free after killing Black people, while Neely is instead blamed for his own lynching.

The militarism of American society worships former and current military members for their “selfless” acts of invading other countries, overthrowing governments and their leaders, and killing militaries and civilians alike (for example, this study from Brown University estimates the US’ wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan have killed at least 387,072 civilians and this Airwars analysis suggests US drones and airstrikes have killed between 22,000 and 48,000 civilians since 2001). It’s no surprise that former and current military members are more likely to commit violent crimes than regular civilians. To pose a highly celebrated person in America—white military man—against a highly criminalized and neglected person in America—homeless Black man is to pin “act of self-defense” over “murder” and “vagrant deserving of behavioral consequences” over victim. Neely’s executioner—though we still don’t know who he is—is and will continued to be praised for his service of his country and of fellow passengers while Neely’s crime of existing while Black and homeless scapegoats him for his own killing.

Anti-homelessness invades every part of American society as it’s correlated with white supremacy and anti-Blackness. People with and without wealth absolutely despite people who are homeless for exactly that—having the gall to be too poor to afford a place to live. I wrote this post back in October about myths related to houselessness that are often perpetuated by those with enough wealth for housing and despite my focus on Hawaiʻi homelessness, each point would ring true for those like Neely on the mainland. Since his killing, Neely has been blamed for not taking advantage of government “resources” that Adams boasted about making record investments toward. No mention of course from Adams about his plan to involuntarily commit mentally ill houseless people, or how he “ordered the clearing of hundreds of homeless camps and sent an additional 1,000 police officers to patrol subways and remove homeless people from train cars and platforms. He also simultaneously cut $615 million from the city’s Department of Homeless Services.” Instead of giving homeless people the exact resources necessary to thrive—housing, money, food, clean water, quality physical and mental healthcare, education, job resources, community spaces, etc.—American society and governments insist on pushing houseless people from one area to another while perpetuating fear mongering myths about rampant crime and blaming homeless communities for such falsities. Recently in California, former San Francisco fire commissioner Don Carmignani told the media he was attacked by a houseless person and stories immediately spread about homeless folks causing violent crime plagues throughout the city. However, videos later emerged of Carmignani bear-spraying a sleeping homeless person before any incident occurred. Similarly when tech exec Bob Lee was killed in SF, local news and social media posts blamed his killing again on homeless people, though he was actually murdered by a tech colleague with whom he had personal issues. It’s far too common for American society and its politicians to neglect and detest houseless community members like Neely instead of providing them with what they actually need—just as Neely yelled before his lynching. For no apparent reason, most housed people would rather hate homeless people for existing around them than hate capitalism for requiring some folks live in poverty while others gloat in and hoard their wealth. As capitalism reigns supreme in the white supremacist Western world, so too will houselessness for those unlucky enough to be poor due to countless factors.

The fear mongering and widespread misinformation tactics of sources like Fox News and the former president consolidated white supremacy, anti-Blackness, militarism, and anti-homelessness efforts to encourage vigilante deputization and punitive carcerality. Neely’s murderer came up behind him and choked him in a headlock to kill him. Neither the man nor the other riders who assisted him in the killing were never at risk of violence from Neely, but they still suffocated him to death for several minutes. Last month, 16-year-old Ralph Yarl—a Black boy—was shot by an 84-year-old white man named Andrew D. Lester when Yarl went to pick up his siblings and appeared at Lester’s house accidentally. According to the Cut, “The week after the shooting, Lester’s grandson — Klint Ludwig, 28 — told the Kansas City Star in an interview that his grandfather consumed “a 24-hour news cycle of fear and paranoia.” Whereas two other relatives told the Star that they thought Lester was likely afraid when he shot Yarl (“eighty-four years old, living by himself,” one nephew said), Ludwig suggested a source for that supposed fear. In the last five or six years, Ludwig said, Lester became “staunchly right-wing,” going “further down the right-wing rabbit hole as far as doing the election-denying conspiracy stuff and COVID conspiracies and disinformation, fully buying into the Fox News, OAN kind of line.” Shortly after in Elgin, Texas, high school cheerleaders Payton Washington and Heather Roth were shot in an HEB parking lot after they accidentally got in the wrong car. And in Fort Edward, New York, 65-year-old Kevin Monahan shot and killed 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis when she and her friends drove up to his driveway while they searched for their friend’s house. The self-deputization of so many shooters and killers like in Neely’s lynching is at the core of an American society built upon slavery and punishment. Such lies about widespread violence, international interference and terroristic threats (currently due to sinophobia), and rampages by homeless folks only encourages apathy toward actual violence directed toward houseless community members like Neely as visible in the bystanders who watched him executed without intervention.

Jordan Neely was lynched on camera in front of countless subway riders because he was hungry and thirsty and criminalized and tired of being hungry and thirsty and criminalized. People watched a white man suffocate Neely to death and they either assisted with the murder or they watched it and did nothing. We can have a world where people are not houseless and are instead everything they need to live healthy and safe and good lives. We can have a world where people like Jordan Neely aren’t suffering every day just trying to survive. We can have a world where we care enough about each other to provide people with material resources in the meantime, and stop white supremacy and anti-homelessness in action. We need to abolish the cops in our heads and actually give a shit enough to support our most vulnerable community members to prevent murders like these from ever happening again.