Tragedy on the Subway: Examining the Death of Jordan Neely

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On May 1, 2023, a tragic event unfolded on the New York City subway that resulted in the death of 30-year-old Jordan Neely. According to eyewitness reports, Neely entered a crowded northbound F train at the Second Avenue station shouting that he was hungry, thirsty and ready to go to jail or die. Witnesses said Neely threw his jacket on the floor aggressively but did not physically threaten anyone. A fellow passenger, 24-year-old Daniel Penny, approached Neely from behind and put him in a chokehold, a restraining technique Penny likely learned during military training. The two men fell to the floor as the train pulled into the next station at Broadway-Lafayette.

Bystander Juan Alberto Vázquez began recording video a few minutes after the chokehold began. The video shows Neely struggling to break free while Penny and two other men pinned him down. Passengers held the train doors open at the station to keep it from moving. After several minutes in the chokehold, Neely stopped moving. Some witnesses warned Penny that he could kill Neely, but Penny and the others continued to restrain him. Neely was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

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Examining the Details of a Preventable Tragedy

The death of Jordan Neely raises many troubling questions. Why did Daniel Penny feel justified in putting a non-violent man in a chokehold? Why did bystanders allow it to continue when it was clear Neely was in distress? How could a simple act of frustration by a hungry and tired man lead to his untimely death?

Neely's behavior on the train, while erratic, did not appear threatening. He shouted about being hungry and thirsty, threw his jacket down and ranted about being ready to go to jail or die. But witnesses say he never threatened or approached anyone. Penny, who did not know Neely, took it upon himself to restrain a man who posed no evident danger. The chokehold quickly escalated into a situation where Neely was essentially pinned down by three men as he struggled for air.

It is apparent from the video footage that Neely was in severe distress. He can be seen desperately trying to move and free himself as Penny chokes his neck and others hold down his limbs. When Neely goes still and silent, it is very clear he is completely unresponsive. Yet the restraint continued until finally bystanders told them to stop. This entire situation could likely have been avoided if someone had stepped in sooner when it was evident Neely could not breathe.

In the end, a man lost his life over what began as an act of frustration and desperation. Jordan Neely was homeless, hungry and clearly disturbed when he entered that train car. He did not deserve to die for those circumstances. His death represents a failure of our society on multiple levels. It is a tragedy that never should have occurred.

This heartbreaking event highlights issues around excessive force, callousness toward those in distress, and the need for better mental health intervention. Jordan Neely's death was preventable. As we process this grief and anger, we must reflect deeply on how to build a society where human life is valued and preserved above all else.

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