The family of Jordan Neely, the Black man who died on a New York subway train after being placed in a chokehold by another passenger, criticised the rider for offering neither “an apology nor an expression of regret” in a statement released through lawyers.
The statement issued by attorneys for Daniel Penny, a white 24-year-old former US marine from Long Island, was “a character assassination and a clear example of why he believed he was entitled to take Jordan’s life”, the Neely family said in their own press release on Monday.
Jordan Neely, 30, died a week before. His death and the lack of charges against Penny have stoked protests in New York.
In a racially charged case, Maurice Mitchell, director of the leftwing Working Families party, headquartered in Brooklyn, criticised the New York governor, Kathy Hochul, and New York City mayor, Eric Adams, for refusing to call Neely’s death “what it is: a modern-day public lynching”.
The statement issued on behalf of Penny described official inaction over mental health and homelessness, saying elected officials treated those struggling with such challenges, such as Neely, with “indifference”.
Saying Neely had “a documented history of violent and erratic behavior, the apparent result of ongoing and untreated mental illness”, the statement said Neely behaved aggressively, prompting riders to act.
In the F train car at Broadway-Lafayette Street station last Monday afternoon, Neely shouted that he was hungry and ready to die. Video captured by another rider showed others pinning Neely down and Penny performing the chokehold.
“Daniel never intended to harm Mr Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death,” Penny’s statement said.
It also called Neely’s death an “awful tragedy” and called for “a new commitment by our elected officials to address the mental health crisis on our streets and subways”.
In their own statement through lawyers, the Neely family rejected Penny’s argument.
They said: “In the first paragraph he talks about how ‘good’ he is and [in] the next paragraph he talks about how ‘bad’ Jordan was in an effort to convince us Jordan’s life was ‘worthless’.
“The truth is, he knew nothing about Jordan’s history when he intentionally wrapped his arms around Jordan’s neck, and squeezed and kept on squeezing.”
Neely’s difficult life has been widely reported. He had been arrested more than three dozen times, the New York Times said, adding: “Many were of the sort that people living on the street often accrue while homeless, like turnstile-jumping or trespassing. But at least four were on charges of punching people, two of them in the subway system.”
The Times also reported that Neely was on a city list of homeless people considered most urgently in need of help.
The Neely family said: “Penny suggests that the general public has shown ‘indifference’ for people like Jordan, but that term is more appropriately used to describe himself.
“It is clear he is the one who acted with indifference, both at the time he killed Jordan and now in his first public message. He never attempted to help him at all.
“In short, his actions on the train, and now his words, show why he needs to be in prison.”
Neely’s family also said Mayor Adams should give them a call.
“The family wants you to know that Jordan matters. You seem to think others are more important than him. You cannot ‘assist’ someone with a chokehold.”
Experts have said Penny could be charged with manslaughter or negligent homicide. A decision on charges is expected as soon as this week.
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