UPDATE (Wednesday, May 17, 2023)

Rev. Al Sharpton demanded justice for Jordan Neely on Saturday at the National Action Network (NAN) House of Justice in Harlem. He lambasted the NYPD for releasing Daniel Penny after initial questioning. 

“What possessed the police in the precinct, why did they let [Penny] go?” said Sharpton. “You got a dead young man. You have no threat or extenuating circumstances. You don’t decide in the precinct whether or not it was a good case or bad case. You got all that you need to go forward and make an arrest.

“‘Well, Rev, what should we have told him?’ Got a dead body, no weapon, no threat? He choked him and admitted to it himself. Do what you do to us: Tell him to tell it to the judge.” 

A fundraising campaign for Daniel Penny—started by his lawyers—recently surpassed $2 million in donations on bible-thumping GoFundMe knockoff GiveSendGo after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis amplified it. The top donations were made under the names of right-wing livestreamer Timothy Pool and “anti-woke” long-shot presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. Another sizable donation was made under Kid Rock’s name, calling Penny his hero and Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg a “POS.” 

For comparison, Jordan Neely’s official GoFundMe campaign has only raised around $127,000, although it far surpassed the initial $75,000 goal. The fundraiser can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/jordan-neely-we-love-you.

UPDATE (Friday, May 12, 2023)

A week and five days after the subway chokehold killing of Black subway rider Jordan Neely, the white former marine Daniel Penny Jr. was arraigned on a charge of Second Degree Manslaughter on Friday, May 12th, 2023. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. 

News of the charges came down on Thursday afternoon, May 11th. The next day, Jordan Neely’s family and their lawyers spoke to the press on 34th Street, close to Penn Station. They remembered the 30-year-old man as a former basketball player and New Jersey high school student. According to the lawyers, Neely had a place to stay with his family but was unhoused due to mental illness. When asked about Penny’s surrender, Donte Mills—one of the representing attorneys—provided sharp words.

“He’s going to be charged, he didn’t do anybody a favor,” said Mills. “They opened that door the day they questioned him when he murdered Jordan Neely and said; ‘You can go home.’ What did he do? He went home. He didn’t do a favor by coming back, they were going to charge him. 

“So in no aspect is Daniel Penny a hero. In no aspect did he do anything that he should not have been required to do.”

Around 50 blocks south, Penny was arraigned at the Manhattan Criminal Court less than an hour after the Neely family press conference. He was released on a $100 thousand bond. 

“After an evaluation of the available facts and evidence, the Manhattan D.A.’s Office determined there was probable cause to arrest Daniel Penny and arraign him on felony charges,” said Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg. “The investigation thus far has included numerous witness interviews, careful review of photo and video footage, and discussions with the Medical Examiner’s Office. As this case proceeds, we will be constrained from speaking outside the courtroom to ensure this remains a fair and impartial matter. 

“Jordan Neely should still be alive today, and my thoughts continue to be with his family and loved ones as they mourn his loss during this extremely painful time.”

Photo: Daniel Penny (center) leaving his arraignment after posting $100k bond. Credit: Tandy Lau photo

Jordan Neely


Jordan Neely was the in-need-of-services homeless man known around the city as a Michael Jackson impersonator. He was killed last week when former Marine Daniel Penny held him in a chokehold for a reported 15 minutes after he told F train commuters he had no food or drink.

Penny was interviewed by NYPD officers and immediately released. The medical examiner deemed it a homicide. At press time, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was still determining whether he would convene a grand jury. 

These two factors have continued to enrage protestors, who are demanding immediate action in both areas. There have been constant protests since the killing on Monday, May 1, 2023, and multiple arrests of demonstrators.

The Amsterdam News asked Neely family attorney Lennon Edwards what he thought was the reason for the delay in convening a grand jury by Bragg. “It’s inexplicable what their reluctance is,” Edwards said. “When the police arrived at the scene, they had both the victim and the killer. They have the eye witnesses, and shortly thereafter the video was released, and the world has seen it. The DA should be seeing what the world is seeing. This man was killed in a way that you kill somebody at war. This is a civilian killing another civilian, and the world has seen it and so how the DA doesn’t see it, I have no idea.”

Known to the city’s mental health services, Neely was on an elevated watchlist. A Department of Social Services spokesperson said the agency cannot disclose specifics about client cases or case histories due to state law.  His was a tragic life. He was only 14 years old when his mother, Christine Neely, was slain in the family home by her boyfriend, Shawn Southerland. Neely had wanted to greet his mother as he left for school, but Southerland said she was asleep, while in fact he had killed her. He was convicted of her murder after she was found stuffed inside a suitcase, and dumped on the Henry Hudson Parkway in New York. At age 18, Neely testified at the trial. Family and friends said it was a trauma that Neely struggled with his entire life.

Anyone who rides the MTA subway regularly will have encountered people actively experiencing poverty, homelessness, and mental illness. Neely, 30, was an unarmed individual who had been on the subway many times and was known by many regular travelers as a beloved performer. On May 1, 2023, on the F train at Lower Manhattan’s Broadway and Lafayette Street, reports say that he loudly and persistently asked fellow riders for food and drink. Daniel Penny, 24, the white former Marine, came from behind and decided to put him in a banned chokehold for 15 minutes, squeezing the life out of him. When police responded to the 911 calls, they found Neely unconscious. He was administered CPR and transported to the Lenox Health Greenwich Village emergency care facility, where he was pronounced dead, according to the NYPD. 

Freelance journalist Juan Alberto Vasquez filmed the incident, and it has been seen worldwide. The graphic video depicts Penny on the subway floor with his left arm wrapped around a limp Neely’s neck for a prolonged period of time. 

Vasquez told the New York Post, “He started screaming in an aggressive manner…He said he had no food, he had no drink, that he was tired and doesn’t care if he goes to jail. He started screaming all these things, took off his jacket—a black jacket that he had—and threw it on the ground.”

Vasquez said Neely was choked for around 15 minutes while others called police. 

“Obviously, he was calling for help,” Neely’s dad, Andre Zachery, 59, told the Daily News. “He wasn’t out to hurt nobody…He was a good kid and a good man, too. Something has to be done. That man [Penny], he’s still walking around right now. My son didn’t deserve to die because he needed help.”

Edwards said, “At this point, the DA is not doing enough to even get the grand jury together. They have not laid out to anybody any concrete action that we can expect to see in the next few days. We’ve already made it clear to the world that this was something that was shown on video, and there’s no question about what happened. There’s no question about the type of technique that was used. It was a choke that the military uses to kill. This is something that a man who spent four years in the military should have known, and we believe he absolutely knew what he was doing when he applied that choke.”

Edwards said people are purely perplexed. “The thing that we can’t understand is he held it for at least 15 minutes knowing that it would kill—and even in the video, you see that Jordan Neely’s lifeless body is still in the clutches of this killer, and he’s being helped by two people that we have not identified yet. The DA has not specified who they are, but they share in the consequences for their actions. Obviously Daniel Penny is the main culprit.”

The NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) deemed Neely’s manner of death a homicide last Wednesday, due to the “compression of neck”—in other words, a chokehold. To be clear, such an assertion is not a legal “ruling on intent or culpability,” so the ball is now in the court of Bragg and his stable of senior prosecutors for whether Penny is tried for killing Neely as an unlawful, criminal act—like murder or manslaughter. 

“This is a solemn and serious matter that ended in the tragic loss of Jordan Neely’s life,” said a Manhattan DA spokesperson. “As part of our rigorous ongoing investigation, we will review the medical examiner’s report, assess all available video and photo footage, identify and interview as many witnesses as possible, and obtain additional medical records.”

Frustration over the Neely death and on the streets is that Penny has neither been arrested nor charged, and Bragg has not—as of presstime—announced when or if he will convene a grand jury in this polarizing and volatile case. He has said that he wants to ensure that his investigation is thorough.

So far, Penny was able to walk away from the scene without charges after the initial NYPD questioning. Things may change pending the Manhattan DA’s investigation. 

Activists are pondering out loud about what, if any, is the relationship between the accused killer and Colonel Daniel Penny of the State Police, who retired in 2016, after 37 years working with internal affairs. 

RELATED: More coverage on Jordan Neely killing

Meanwhile, folk are asking what charges may be brought forth by the DA, should a grand jury be seated and choose to indict.

“They will charge him with things that they believe should be able to stick—obviously, this is not an accidental killing,” said Edwards. “I consider this to be something that he knew that he was doing, so every charge that applies to an intent to kill is certainly what they should include.”

Last weekend Gov. Kathy Hochul said, “Sometimes people have an episode where they’re displaying their feelings in a loud and emotional way, but it became very clear that he was not going to, you know, cause harm to these other people. And the video of three individuals holding him down until the last breath was snuffed out of him—I would say it was a very extreme response.”

“She’s right that this was extreme and that he was snuffed out,” Edwards agreed.

With the May 25 (2020) anniversary just a few weeks out, this case is being likened to the Derek Chauvin and Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd; 2014 police killing of Eric Garner, after officer Daniel Pantelo placed him in a chokehold; and white vigilantes George Zimmerman who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, 17, in 2013 in Florida, because he decided he thought Martin looked suspicious, and Bernard Goetz, who shot four Black youths on a New York City Manhattan subway train in 1984, alleging they tried to rob him. 

The NYC streets are once again shuddering with demands for justice and the arrest of the white perpetrator of a Black death on camera.

The protests began almost immediately, demanding the arrest of Penny, who was interviewed by police and subsequently released.

“Chokeholds kill. Cops are no longer allowed to use them. They stop blood flow to the brain. At 1 minute brain cells start to die, 3 minutes permanent brain damage, 5 minutes death. USMC-trained martial artists know that,” Facebook user Bill Dores wrote.

Edwards told the AmNews,“[Penny] just held on and choked the life out of Jordan.”

Immediately slammed for a perceived insensitive and defamatory tone, Penny’s lawyers issued a statement on his behalf on Friday, May 5, confirming his involvement in the subway incident, but arguing their client was protecting himself. They mentioned Neely’s “history of violent and erratic behavior,” pointing to recent reporting on his previous arrests, which include several assault charges. But the attorneys did not mention any form of physical attack leading up to the struggle, only that Neely was “aggressively threatening” Penny and other passengers. 

Neely’s family called the statement “a character assassination and a clear example of why [Penny] believed he was entitled to take Jordan’s life” in a response through their own lawyers this past Monday, May 8. They also disputed the statement’s claims that Penny assisted Neely after the chokehold—in the posted clip, he is shown idling after getting off the ground before the video ends. 

The AmNews asked whether this case is already political. “I think the failure to act on the part of the DA has contributed to why it’s political,” Edwards replied. “But the family has already voiced their appreciation that there are certain people in politics, certain people in positions who have had the courage to speak up and call this what it is. AOC [Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) has been very vocal from the very beginning. This is a murder, it’s a killing.”

As for Penny’s purported defense that he was trying to defend himself and other straphangers, Edwards answered, “That’s ludicrous. Jordan didn’t touch anyone, and eyewitnesses and passengers on the train have confirmed that Jordan made no physical contact with anyone on the train. The first physical contact was made by Daniel Penny grabbing from behind—grabbing Jordan and [holding] him in a chokehold that brought both of them to the ground. So it is illogical. It does not match the evidence. It’s not reasonable. It’s an excuse.”

The first vigil for Neely was held on Sunday, May 7, on the Broadway-Lafayette platform where Neely was choked. Tensions between demonstrators and police were heightened throughout, especially since access to the demonstration was soon blocked off by officers over “safety concerns,” even for credentialed media outlets, including the Amsterdam News. 

Trains remained in operation during the vigil, and exiting passengers were corralled away from the crowd.The animosity boiled over into a street protest, leading to at least three arrests and a shoving match between police and demonstrators. Multiple protests throughout the city followed, including in downtown Brooklyn. Protestors even jumped on the tracks leading to arrests and warnings about the danger of the third rail.

“The family is thankful for this support,” said Edwards. “The family wants to continue seeing peaceful protest, and as we continue to voice this concern and then speak out to what has happened here, not just locally, but nationally, we can help push and force forward changes that need to happen, so that we don’t have another story like this happen to any family.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams demanded immediate charges against Penny for Neely’s death, along with justice for this case. 

“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,” said Williams in an email comment. “An environment has long been created by media and elected officials that encourages fear of and violence against people who are struggling, that paints them as a threat to public safety. 

“But being homeless is not a capital crime. Struggling with mental health is not a capital crime. Being Black is not a capital crime.”

Speaker of the City Council Adrienne Adams also condemned Neely’s killing, along with those justifying his death—which she attributed to endemic racism. 

“His killing at the hands of a fellow passenger and the responses to this violence that took his life have been not only tragic but difficult to absorb,” said Speaker Adams in a statement. “Racism that continues to permeate throughout our society allows for a level of dehumanization that denies Black people from being recognized as victims when subjected to acts of violence.”

At his weekly National Action Network rally in Harlem, Rev. Al Sharpton condemned the killing of Neely, saying that having a mental health crisis should not result in a death sentence.

“Our system failed to provide the support that Jordan Neely needed,” added NYC Comptroller Brad Lander in an email statement. “We cannot become a city where someone experiencing a mental health crisis is choked to death on the subway. I hope that this can be a wake-up call for more compassion and common sense.”

Not every citywide official is calling for justice, however. Mayor Eric Adams condemned Lander’s anti-vigilante stance—along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s comments saying Neely was murdered—and asked the city to wait for the Manhattan DA’s investigation to conclude. 

Critics have balked at Mayor Adams’s wait-and-see approach, charging that it is not appropriate in light of the video clearly showing the chokehold.

Edwards echoed the critics. “He is the mayor of New York City. He is responsible for the people, and you’ve got to speak out on something like this. It shouldn’t have to be that the governor is speaking, that we have AOC speaking, and the mayor of the people is silent on this injustice, and on this murder. He’s talked about how he’s waiting for some type of investigation to be completed, but we’re talking about what we see in real life on a video [of what] happened. He has enough to be a voice that speaks to this type of action, because how many Jordan Neely stories do you want to have? How many more stories of Daniel Penny do you want to have where people are taking things into their own hands and killing other civilians? And at what point is he going to think that it’s time to speak out?”

On Facebook, the late King of Pop’s family offered condolences: “We mourn the passing of 30-year-old Michael Jackson impersonator Jordan Neely, who had amassed a following within New York City and beyond. On 1 May, Jordan was completely unnecessarily choked to death on a subway car. #justiceforjordanneely.”

“The fact that Jordan idolized Michael Jackson—for them to actually send out any message, that would be a blessing,” Edwards told the AmNews. “I think he would be ecstatic. It’s unfortunate that he never had a chance to meet somebody that he felt so much of. But for the family to send a message—it is warmly received and gratefully received, and humbling, and we thank them for their comment, and for recognizing that Jordan was such a huge fan.”

Through Neely’s family, Rev. Dr. Johnnie Melvin Green Jr., senior pastor of Harlem’s Mount Neboh Baptist Church, has requested that Sharpton deliver the eulogy when Neely is laid to rest on Friday, May 19. Green is the longtime pastor for Neely’s family and presided over his mother’s funeral in 2007. 

“As we face sorrow, pain, and uncertainty in the wake of Jordan’s senseless killing, it is crucial that we come together in the spirit of healing, action, and perseverance,” said Green. 

Further funeral details have not yet been announced.

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