Let’s break down the latest development in the saga of Daniel Penny, the 24-year-old USMC veteran, who is now facing charges of second-degree manslaughter for the death of Jordan Neely. On a New York City subway train, Neely, plagued by mental illness, was creating a public disturbance, tossing garbage on the F train, and crying out for death or imprisonment as he lamented his lack of food.
Penny, stepping up to calm the situation, restrained Neely in what turned out to be a fatal chokehold. The city medical examiner declared Neely’s death a homicide, leading to public uproar, with protestors halting subway service demanding justice.
Penny, through his lawyers, insisted he never wished to harm Neely. This incident has unfolded into a tragic sequence of events that has us questioning the line between intervention and escalation.
A bystander’s video, capturing the ordeal, shows the escalating tension as Neely fought against his restraints, eventually going limp. Penny and another man then moved Neely into a recovery position. Unanticipated by the onlookers, Neely’s life ended shortly after.
The call for Penny’s arrest resounded through the City Council with council member Kevin Riley likening the incident to a public lynching. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) even labeled Neely’s death a “public murder.” Governor Kathy Hochul suggested that Neely was merely “being a passenger” on the subway and wasn’t a threat to other passengers.
However, let’s not forget Neely’s troubled history marked by mental-health issues and a record of 42 arrests, including four for assault. “Neely was arrested in August 2015 for attempted kidnapping “after he was seen dragging a 7-year-old girl down an Inwood street,” the New York Daily News reported. He pled guilty to endangering the welfare of a child and was sentenced to four months in jail. He was later arrested again in June 2019 for punching a 64-year-old man in the face during a fight in a Greenwich Village subway station, the report adds.”
Neely’s erratic behavior was not unknown to subway riders who had expressed fear of him years prior. He was recognized by the NYC Department of Homeless Services as one of the “Top 50” individuals with the most dire needs.
This incident underscores the critical need for better mental health intervention and homelessness solutions. There’s no denying the tragedy of Neely’s death. However, it’s also vital to consider the position Penny found himself in, where he felt compelled to intervene in a public disturbance. This case underlines the thin and often blurred line between citizen intervention and law enforcement in crisis situations.