The man who choked Jordan Neely to death has raised more than $2 million to date for his defense. (Image: WPIX, pix.com, May 15, 2023)
Daniel Penny choked Jordan Neely to death on a New York City subway. He was deputized by the state to do so, and the state continues to defend him and assassinate Neely's character after his murder.
On May 12, Daniel Penny turned himself in at the New York Police Department’s Fifth Precinct and was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on manslaughter charges for choking Jordan Neely, a homeless, mentally ill Black man, to death on an F line subway train in Manhattan on May 1. Penny was released on $100,000 bond, ordered to surrender his passport, and told not to leave New York without approval. He’s due back in court on July 17.
But this is neither justice nor cause for celebration.
The state, in fact, can never bring about justice for Neely.
Instead, much like the two as-yet unnamed men who helped hold Neely down as Penny choked the life out of him, the state is Penny’s accomplice.
Even before Penny ever encountered Neely on the train that day, the state, particularly Mayor Eric Adams, laid the groundwork for Neely’s horrific death. Adams became mayor thanks to a media-contrived crime panic paving the way for him to position himself, a former NYPD cop, as the solution to crime. Adams then used this crime panic as a mandate to further expand NYC’s already-expansive, racist police state. He flooded the subways and streets with more cops to rid them of homeless people and carried out hundreds of sweeps where cops, usually accompanied by a few token Department of Homeless Services workers, forcibly displaced or arrested homeless folks and trashed their belongings. This helped to create an atmosphere where unhoused community members were seen as violent nuisances and criminals who needed to be violently subdued and driven from public view.
As soon as Penny was done squeezing the life out of Neely, the state and its local media mouthpieces went to work protecting him, defending him, and crushing anyone who dared to speak up against all of this. Even Penny’s very name was withheld by all of the local media outlets that reported on Neely’s death despite the fact that they obviously knew his name. We only learned Penny’s name due to sleuths on Twitter and a slip-up by the Daily Mail, who, while attempting to erase Penny’s name from their article, forgot to erase his name from a photo caption.
NYPD initially took Penny into custody and interviewed him but quickly released him with no charges. And it’s not hard to see why cops might see themselves in Penny. What Penny did was not much different from what NYPD cop Daniel Pantaleo did to Eric Garner in 2014. Pantaleo was also defended by cops, cop-worshiping politicians, fascist propaganda outlets, and local media in much the same way that Penny is being defended, with both of their victims being smeared as career criminals who, at best, just so happened to die while being choked or, at worst, deserved to be killed in order to somehow make people safe.
Adams wouldn’t even condemn the killing at first despite being known for demagoguing about crime, especially crime on the subway. Only days later, after receiving a barrage of criticism, did Adams finally make a half-hearted, perfunctory speech where he lied about his own record on homelessness but managed to say that “Neely’s life mattered.” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who only decided to charge Penny after almost two weeks of protests and outrage from the public, also initially refused to even release Penny’s name.
Governor Kathy Hochul, in response to a reporter asking about Neely’s death, gave a confused statement where she seemed to not even be familiar with what exactly happened. Instead, it seems she just knew that someone was killed on the subway in an incident involving a homeless, mentally ill person and that the killer was released without charges. So, eager to kowtow to racist right-wingers and ever fearful of negative headlines from reactionary local tabloids who like to portray her as soft-on-crime (something she’s outright admitted), she apparently assumed that Neely was the one who killed somebody and instinctively started talking about mental health services, parole, keeping people locked up pretrial, putting more cops in the subways, putting more cameras in the subways, and subway crime stats.
Multiple protests then happened in the days following the murder of Neely, so Adams and the NYPD moved to viciously crack down on every one of those demonstrations with intense repression, surveillance, and police violence against protesters. On May 6, protesters went onto the tracks of the 63rd Street-Lexington Avenue subway stop and blocked a train before marching on the streets. Among the many protesters arrested that day was well-known copwatcher Jose LaSalle. Along with multiple injuries, LaSalle fainted twice on the way to the precinct and had to be hospitalized. His body camera was recording the whole time and caught cops on audio describing protesters with transphobic slurs and laughing about ruthlessly beating protesters (specifically an Asian protester) while blocking cameras from recording them. Cops even tried to charge two of the protesters who went onto the tracks with terrorism but those charges were later dropped. And in the days after that protest, police released photos of even more protesters they sought to arrest.
On May 8, cops attacked a vigil for Neely, including making numerous arrests and bloodying the face of one arrested protester (who could use your support). NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell was also caught on camera ordering the arrest of photojournalist Stephanie Keith. Later that night, cops even arrested people doing jail support for their arrested comrades outside NYPD’s Seventh Precinct. Police later tried to deflect from their own violence by releasing a photo of what they claimed to be a Molotov cocktail that they found, which was appropriately met with lots of skepticism and derision online and later got a Twitter community note added that debunked NYPD’s claim. Even cop-friendly local media refrained from outright saying that cops found a Molotov cocktail and instead said that cops “found items needed to make a molotov cocktail.” The next day, Adams claimed, without any evidence, that the protesters were “agitators that come from outside our city,” a smear used by cops since at least the Civil Rights era. Adams has never referred to Penny, who is from Long Island, or the thousands of NYPD cops who live outside the city as “outside agitators” though.
A copwatcher also recorded video showing that the vigil for Neely that protesters put up outside of the Broadway-Lafayette station was taken down and completely erased. So not only did they help to bring about Neely’s death, but Adams and the NYPD have also tried to kill him again by wiping out his memory and very brutally crushing anyone who dares to demand justice for him.
Penny has also, quite fittingly, retained Thomas Kenniff as his lawyer. Kenniff is a far right former candidate for Manhattan DA who campaigned by playing into the crime panic, repeating right-wing lies about modest bail reform, and pushing for more “broken windows", i.e. racist, policing. Earlier in his career, Kenniff was deployed to Iraq where he defended soldiers accused of violating military law. More recently, Kenniff represented Ed Mullins, the notoriously racist former head of the NYPD sergeants union (known as the Sergeants Benevolent Association), in court for his trial for stealing about $1 million from that organization.
Keniff and Penny’s lawyers have started a campaign on the right-wing crowdfunding site GiveSendGo to pay for Penny’s legal fees. The campaign has been getting spread on social media by a variety of fascists including Florida Governor Ron Desantis and the National Police Association, a cop nonprofit that even other cops accuse of running scams.
And of course, as media coverage constantly reminds us, Penny is himself a former Marine, ready to kill at the behest of the state, from a military family. Penny was deployed twice during his four years as a Marine before being promoted to sergeant and then being honorably discharged in 2021.
To put it succinctly, Daniel Penny is the state.
And the state is Daniel Penny.
And justice for Jordan Neely can never come from his murderers.
Ashoka Jegroo is a multimedia journalist born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Along with documenting and reporting on protests, police, and the policing of protests, his written work covers state violence against oppressed communities, radical political movements, and the fight against fascism. He has bylines in The Santiago Times, The Appeal, Truthout, Gothamist, Shadowproof, and other outlets.