Tuesday, 21 May 2024

In a Speech, Mayor Adams Says Jordan Neely’s ‘Life Mattered’

More than a week after the killing of a mentally ill man on a city subway, Mayor Eric Adams gave his most forceful comments so far about the death, saying it “never should have happened,” in a speech in which he also called for renewed investment in mental health services.

But Mr. Adams continued to urge the public to wait for an investigation into the killing of the man, Jordan Neely, before drawing conclusions. In other recent cases, he has interjected his opinion quickly and expressed sympathy for the person he perceives as the victim, and suggested a course of legal action against the person he perceives as the perpetrator. But on Wednesday, he said that in the case of Mr. Neely’s death, “we have no control over that process.”

“One thing we can control is how our city responds to this tragedy,” he said, adding, “One thing we can say for sure: Jordan Neely did not deserve to die.”

Mr. Neely, a 30-year-old Black man and former Michael Jackson impersonator, was choked to death on May 1 by another passenger, Daniel Penny, who is white. His death could have been avoided if he had received more help as he struggled with mental illness, Mayor Adams said.

“Jordan Neely’s life mattered,” he said during an address at City Hall that was closed to the news media. “He was suffering from severe mental illness, but that was not the cause of his death. His death was a tragedy that never should have happened.”

Mayor Adams’s remarks come as the Manhattan district attorney’s office weighs whether to charge Mr. Penny for choking Mr. Neely to death on a northbound F train last Monday, a killing that set off protests around the city and led to angry exchanges between city leaders. They also come during contentious discussions about the city’s budget, after the mayor proposed cuts to schools, libraries and social services.

Many left-leaning activists and leaders, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have called the killing a murder and said the mayor should have expressed more sympathy for Mr. Neely, who was homeless at the time of his death.

Last week, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez called the mayor’s mention of mental health services when discussing Mr. Neely “especially rich” coming from an administration that is “trying to cut the very services that could have helped him.”

Even as the mayor has pushed for cuts to city agencies, the Adams administration has made a number of moves to increase services and responses to people with severe mental illness. On Wednesday, Mr. Adams called on state lawmakers to pass legislation he has proposed that would allow authorities to intervene with people who are experiencing mental illness and unable to meet their basic needs.

“We must reverse decades of disinvestment,” he said. “We must recommit to our shared civic responsibility to look after each other.”

In earlier remarks about the killing, Mr. Adams had called for patience in the investigation into Mr. Penny’s actions, saying “there are many layers to this.”

But on Wednesday, he made sympathetic remarks focused on Mr. Neely, referring to him as “Jordan” throughout his speech and expressing condolences to the slain man’s family, who have asked him to call them to talk about their son.

“Our heart goes out to Jordan’s family, suffering great pain and uncertainty about the circumstances of his death. No family should have to suffer a loss like this,” he said. “And too many Black and brown families bear the brunt of a system long overdue for reform.”

Just before Mr. Adams spoke, the city’s public advocate, Jumaane Williams, and City Comptroller Brad Lander stood in front of the Broadway-Lafayette Street station in SoHo, where the F train stopped on May 1, and called once again for swift charges against Mr. Penny.

“Jordan Neely was unjustly killed and charges must be immediately brought against the person who killed him,” Mr. Williams said. “To say anything else is an equivocation that will only further a narrative that devalues the life of a Black, homeless man with mental health challenges and encourages an attitude of dehumanization of New Yorkers in greatest need.”

Last July, the mayor defended Jose Alba, a bodega clerk who was initially charged with second-degree murder after he stabbed a man to death who came behind the counter to confront and shove him.

Mr. Adams, though he noted at the time that he could not dictate how the district attorney decided on prosecutions, said Mr. Alba appeared to have been defending himself.

“We have enough people who are there for people who break the law,” he said at a news conference less than a week after the stabbing. “I’m a person that’s there for people who follow the law.”

The charges against Mr. Alba were eventually dropped.

And after a man was arrested and charged with assaulting former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in a Staten Island supermarket last June, the mayor reached out to the Staten Island district attorney to express his opinion about the case.

Mr. Adams said the man had patted Mr. Giuliani on the back, and had not assaulted him. He suggested the former mayor might have been the one to commit a crime, by falsely reporting that it was an assault. The charges against the man were later reduced after video evidence showed that he indeed appeared to have only patted Mr. Giuliani on the back.

In Mr. Neely’s case, Mr. Adams was far more circumspect in the week after the killing, saying it remains unclear what happened.

The police said they received a call at 2:27 p.m. on May 1 about a fight on an F train at the Broadway-Lafayette Street station.

Earlier, Mr. Neely boarded the train and immediately began screaming, causing people who were sitting near him to move away, according to Juan Alberto Vazquez, a freelance journalist who recorded a video of the choking. Mr. Neely said he was hungry and thirsty and took off his jacket, throwing it down on the ground.

No witnesses have suggested Mr. Neely assaulted any passengers, or committed any crimes.

“‘I’m tired already,’” Mr. Neely said, according to Mr. Vazquez. “‘I don’t care if I go to jail and get locked up. I’m ready to die.’”

Lauren McCarthy and Andy Newman contributed reporting.

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