What a subway killing says about policing, the law-and-order right, and the progressive left
Here is my perspective. I lived in New York (from 2000 to 2005), took the subway almost every day (often multiple times per day), and was immensely grateful for the freedom that the subway provided. It was also, I'm sure, a relatively good time to be a subway rider in New York in terms of safety.
Having said that, there were at least 4-5 instances during those five years where someone was acting dangerously erratically or simply intentionally intimidating other people in the subway. And while I was never particularly worried for myself personally, I can absolutely remember being terrified as I thought about what I was going to do if the situation became truly violent and the person began to physically attack another rider, particularly a woman. I remember thinking how I would have to do something (the Kitty Genovese story made a huge impression on me as a teenager; and I vowed never to sit back and do nothing while someone was attacked like that), but how awful it would be to die or be seriously injured because I happened to be on the train with the wrong person and got knifed or shot trying to help. I remember desperately looking around the train trying to figure out if who if anyone would come to my aid if I intervened and how we could coordinate action.
In those moments, I can't tell how much I wished there was someone like Daniel Penny on the train with me, especially someone who was willing to take that first (and by far the hardest) step forward to intervene. I feel badly for Jordan Neely, who obviously was the victim of tremendous misfortune in his life. I absolutely wish that that his Mom had never been killed, that he had a stronger family to rally around him when it did, and that our society had better systems and programs for dealing with the mentally ill as he got older and became more and more unbalanced. I strongly support higher taxes to make such programs possible.
But I absolutely draw the line at tolerance of the threat of physical violence toward others. There can be no tolerance of that in society, particularly in spaces like the subway. And so I'm grateful that Daniel Penny was willing to step forward in that moment, especially since I know I would not have the physical courage to take that first step. But I'm also sure I would have been one of the people to step forward to assist Penny as he tried to keep Neely subdued by holding Neely's arms. And while I absolutely wish Neely had not died, if I'm being honest, in that situation I would not have wanted Penny to release him before we were all certain that Neely was no longer a threat, even if it risked serious injury to Neely.
The same people I see weekly with a table in the park calling for the abolition of policing and incarceration, this week had a table this week calling for Penny to be arrested and incarcerated. I'm not using a metaphor here, this literally happened.
A few things:
1) I am most curious to hear your take on/response to FdB's take on Neely. I'm pretty much 100% with FdB on the incident and the broader political context. Then again, I general tend to be pretty close to FdB's position on most mental illness adjacent topics.
2) I am curious how you think the Usual Suspects would have reacted had Penny been Black but all the other facts unchanged. AFAICT, probably not all that differently than in this reality (based on e.g. Memphis in particular, but also various police shootings etc. where the dead person is White or even simply not Black) - the most important thing is evidently always and only whether the homicide* victim is Black.
* I'm in good with calling Neely a homicide victim based both on the Medical Examiner's finding plus the general definition of homicide (assuming there are not weird edge cases in New York law). I'm not at all OK with jumping to "murder" (versus negligent homicide, which is a plausible charge based on present public evidence), to say nothing of "lynching". Then again, I am strongly against the general dysphemism treadmill (also a game shared between Left and Right, at least here in the US) for all kinds of reasons.
3) I strongly disagree with what I _infer_ is your moral positioning re "If Neely was merely verbally threatening, passengers could have chosen to leave the car at the next train stop." No question that passengers were physically capable of doing so, and certainly free to do so, but if you are implying some sort of "obligation to retreat", no and no. Please clarify what you meant.
4) I should note that I have not had the experience of taking inner city public transit (San Francisco Muni buses and streetcars) on a daily basis and at late hours since I was eighteen, and that was a while ago (only had the experience of being robbed and mildly beaten for Bus Riding While White once and no really frightening encounters with the evidently mentally ill - given my frequent lack of situational awareness, not bad statistics all in all).
When left pundits (major or minor) freak out about the potential reintroduction of involuntary commitment and a state hospital regime, because (obviously) those powers can be and were abused, it never seems to occur to them that *they* (if so strongly inclined) could get a job in the system to advocate for transparent and frequent review of the cases of involuntarily-committed people! Of course it’s less fun than Twitter, and involves real ambiguity and difficult moral compromises.
According to the Times, Mr. Neely had been placed in a treatment facility in the Bronx in February, under a court agreement to take his medication and stop using drugs. He left the facility (again, according to the Times) on his own initiative after 13 days.
It’s hard for me not to be biased towards Penny because I live in NY and recognized Neely in the video and I can confirm from firsthand experience he was *very* menacing, although I never saw him hit anyone. But I agree that doesn’t mean he deserved to die.
This is a really sad and difficult issue. It’s gross to see both sides twisting (if not outright fabricating) the narrative of this tragedy to serve their own ends, although I guess it’s not surprising.
Appreciate the thoughtful article, since thoughtfulness is in such short supply these days.
There is a glaring hole in this story. What about the other guys who were attempting to subdue him? The headlock was Penny's individual decision which was bad. But they also made individual decisions. Lots of evidence that Neely was severely mentally troubled and distraught (screaming, throwing things) inside a subway car that riders could not escape. What would the other guys have to say, about why they stepped in?
This is not an instance of police brutality with its historic resonance. Interpersonal violence is hardly unknown in this city. The behavior and impact of angry homeless people in the subway is also a known problem, deserving concern and sympathy all around, but also realism. We don't have to make it a public racial issue, but we do, one suspects, simply because of the tribal configuration of it. We are sliding towards Verona rules: "Romeo slew Tybalt. Romeo must die." And that's a very dark place to be.
Protests are a noticeable and dramatic activity. Investigation, getting the story, is not. So it is the mobs that get the attention, and become the story. Which is what they want.
As an individual charged with a crime, Penny would have the right to a fair trial based on evidence of his individual actions. If he can't get that in this jurisdiction because of the racializing of the issue, the case will be moved to another, presumably more objective and possibly sympathetic one. So maybe the performative protesting and allyship is just counterproductive. Not for the first time.
NYPD unions cannot be regarded as part of the labor movement because they work actively against other unions. To take a recent example, the NYPD helped to crack down on the Hunts Point strike in 2021. Similar examples of anti-labor action by the NYPD have been common throughout its history.
On another note, it's inaccurate to write that the death penalty has never been employed in New York. It was used until 1963. Hundreds of people were executed in the decades before that.
On the Police Union issue you started with: I always felt if Defund the Police added one word to the slogan, the word "PENSION," they would have had the biggest political success ever! From lawnmowing taxpayers to inner city political organizers everyone would be for it. At least in the Northeast.
Perry a Goetz is not. One thing that the media has done too much, and you have not thankfully is comparison to Bernard Goetz without contrast. This isn't Goetz. It could be a convention [going to turn on events before the choke, presence of imminent harm to passengers and not just harassment]. Penny didn't go out looking for this on that day, that's clear from what we know. Goetz was looking to get his joy from the first person that bothered him, and it's possible the bothering didn't even happen, but in any case, he loaded up and sought it out. This was either a defensible incident which saved lives or injury, or an exaggerated response to normalized subway harassment, which would then result in liability.
Vigilanti-ism is never a good thing in a civilized society. Neither is violence. Nothing I read so far indicates that Neely was actually physically threatening to anyone. However, I did read that more than one passenger on the subway car called 911 saying that an armed person was threatening passengers. Neely was unarmed. The phone calls specifically mentioned guns and knives. What's that all about???
Unfortunately we have only the idiotic, biased, limited and woke version of events, as we are going on the information provided by Corporate Media. They somehow were able to ignore the 20 or so other murders in the NYC MTA system over the past few years, but THIS one they've plastered all over the news. I wonder why?
1) As more information comes out, I think we will see more, probably flawed, rationale for the man's actions in choking Neely. Most of it will be ignored.
2) AOC has become a total caricature.
3) The easily dismissed hypocrisy of the modern Progressive will lead to continued losses in elections.
4) More writers like Ross Barkan are needed in Corporate Media.
Somewhere in this article you wrote ,"New York, where the death penalty has never been employed." I just want to clear it up for anyone who may be too young to remember that New York has a long history of deploying the death penalty, famously being the first state to adopt the electric chair in an attempt to make executions more humane. We currently do not have the death penalty in New York since it was (last) thrown out by the courts in 2004.
again. when i say people haven't been thinking things through when they approve so easily of dealing with threat. let's go to the next step in this situation. so someone is choking you for 15 seconds. they've got their arm crushing your adam's apple, your larynx, cutting off your breath. you feel that, believe me. it feels good when they let go. now say thirty seconds. what's that like? now say a minute. count a minute being choked. it's a very, very long time. how long did this actually go on? three minutes? seven? and it seems that somebody warned the guy about the danger of holding on that long.
one more point. even people who have obviously killed people, who are caught and jailed, get a trial. and if convicted few of them are sentenced to death. that's because death is a horrible thing. and imagine your father, brother, son in this situation. imagine yourself. that a few people on this site can be so cavalier about death in this instance suggests that they're not thinking things through. i'm not left, right or center. i'm looking at this incident in the context of our society and the downward slope we're obviously on. many ukranians think it's okay to kill russians and vice versa. all over the world people are finding people who are too threatening to let live. that mindset is moving the world towards greater and greater danger. this is one instance of that larger picture.
i'm amazed that so many people think that killing a threatening person is okay.
i'm not for defunding the police. they have a function. i taught school and some of my students became nyc cops. some stayed in touch. none of them, at least in what they said to me, had ever abused civilians. but they told me how many cops did. yes, pairing cops with social workers would allow for many other options than just harming.
and a personal note. thirty years ago i lived in the east village. i was crossing over second avenue and st. marks place when a guy in a truck, white in this instance, felt he had been obstructed by a guy in a van, black in this instance. the trucker called the van guy a name and threatened him. they jumped out and starting whaling on each other. it was apparent after a coiuple of minutes that the trucker was the better fighter. he kept knoking the van driver down and the van driver kept getting up and going in to fight again but he was getting groggier and groggier.
people just stood and watched. i called out to the truck driver to stop. he said but it's the other guy's fault. i said, maybe so far but if you hurt him seriously then its' your fault. the trucker stopped and walked to his truck and got in. he actually said thank you to me. a few of us went to help the van driver. it looked to me like a few more knockdowns might have really caused damage or even killed him. chokeholds are even illegal for cops (eric garner?). to keep holding is to risk causing death. the hold plus the length of time counts. it looks like both were wrong and too much.
nobody deserves this. if he had actually attacked someone then to restrain him would be right. toi keep on and on, no. just no.