It’s so easy to kill a Black man in New York City under Mayor Eric Adams. His scare tactics over the so-called “out of control” homeless Black men—usually suffering with mental illness—has given license to white and Hispanic “crusaders” to put them down with impunity.
Such is the evidence of recent episodes—and make no mistake, the standards of “control” in the public culture are different for Black men. It all creates a toxic dynamic of race, ethnicity, and class and brutality in the city.
The so-called crusaders who ganged up on a weakling, homeless Jordan Neely were imitating the worst antics of brutish police officers.
This was not a heroic intervention despite what the contemptible Mayor Adams wants to pretend. This was little more than a vigilante reaction gone bad.
In fact, the only difference between the white man using a deadly chokehold in this incident and the police officer who took out Eric Garner was the NYPD badge of protection in the Garner death. Unlike the police, the man in the Jordan Neely case has no right to qualified immunity.
New Yorkers must not repeat Florida’s judicial tragedy of lionizing George Zimmerman’s killing of Trayvon Martin.
What the city’s dynamic of race, ethnicity, crime, and poverty requires is nimble political leadership. What it has is a mayor who tends to stir the pot of demonization against the dispossessed. It began early in his term with scare tactics over street crime and the homeless, disproportionately composed of tragic Black men.
Then it shifted to the celebration of a Hispanic merchant who stabbed a young Black man to death in an altercation over a child and a bag of potato chips.
Now it is a white vigilante “crusader”—a former Marine—snuffing out a homeless man who was known for doing Michael Jackson impersonations, but who made people feel uncomfortable on the subway train; fair to say probably the very same people whom he made smile with his slick dance moves in an earlier period.
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On a better day, riders could have moved to the other side of the train car or exited the car. The white man who felt a need to jump to the defense was in no personal danger and had no cause to protect others.
But in the urban culture of Mayor Adams, the city has embraced a public safety anxiety that is ugly and vicious and knee-jerk. As a former cop, and a self-professed “new face of the Democratic Party,” Adams has fueled a vision of his brothers as “street rats” that merit elimination.
Defenders of the killing note that Neely had been arrested 44 times on various charges of vagrancy. Understand, however, that arresting a Black man is commonplace in America and reflects as much on the police departments as on the incidents. In fact, several years ago, the United Nations condemned the use of excessive force by the NYPD as a human rights violation.
Today, the United Nations should investigate the culture of racial oppression perpetrated against the Black poor and dispossessed under the Adams administration. There is no excuse for this killing.
JUSTICE FOR JORDAN NEELY!
Roger House is an associate professor of American studies at Emerson College, Boston.