Families, friends, and outreach workers remember the 30-year-old Black man who died after another passenger put him in a lethal chokehold on the subway Tuesday night for his talent, passion, and resilience.
From early 2009, Jordan Neely was well known to New Yorkers as a moonwalking Michael Jackson impersonator who danced on subways and subway platforms. As a teenager, Neely's magnetic performances hid intensifying mental illness that was worsened by the death of his mother by an abusive boyfriend and his lack of stable housing.
As New York attempts to house homeless residents and provide services to people with severe mental illnesses, Neely's death has grabbed the attention of elected officials and everyday New Yorkers.
According to Larry Malcolm Smith, Jr., he got to know Neely in foster care roughly a decade ago and saw him as a big brother who shared the money he earned dancing with other kids.
“This was a good guy,” Smith said. “He would be in the New York City train station using his God-gifted ability and talent. I just want people to know the positives,” Smith said, noting that Neely's mental health treatment and stable home were failed by those very systems in place to offer help “Jordan could have been housed but nobody cares.”
Tattoo artist Melyssa Votta said she became friends with Neely when he dated one of her friends in high school. At that time, Neely was living in New York City and was “having issues with where he was living,” she said. “He was really such a sweet kid, he just had a bad time,” Votta said.
An online fundraiser was set up by Neely's aunt Carolyn Neely calling for justice after the killing. “I love my nephew Jordan Neely, he was a very talented Black man who loves to dance,” Carolyn Neely wrote. “Performance was his thing.”
An article from TheGuardian has identified Neely's killer as 24-year-old Daniel Penny, a white ex-marine of West Islip, Long Island. Although Neely's death has been ruled a homicide, there are no charges against Penny and he was released by police.
The Manhattan district attorney is investigating Neely’s death after police released Penny, who choked Neely while two others held his arms as he struggled, according to a video posted on social media.
American society's devaluation of Black people and people with mental health challenges are the core factors that made the system fail Jordan Neely and cast him aside. Daniel Penny must be brought to justice and punished for taking his life for no reason.