J. Pharoah Doss: Needless Jordan Neely narratives

In public discourse, there are two forms of narrative. The standard narrative is a detailed account of an incident; the viewpoint narrative presents a situation in a way that promotes a political position.

 The public first learned that a mentally ill homeless Black man named Jordan Neely died on a New York subway train after Daniel Penny, a White military veteran, restrained him through the account of Juan Alberto Vázquez, who witnessed the incident.

 Vázquez told police that after Neely boarded the subway train, Neely started yelling that he didn’t have food or water and didn’t care about going to jail. Neely didn’t ask anyone for anything but acted in a violent manner, at one point slamming his jacket. The people around Neely were scared and moved away from him as Neely kept yelling.

 Then Penny came up behind Neely, grabbed him by the neck, and forced Neely to the floor.

 Thirty seconds later, the train reached a stop, and passengers rushed off the train. Vázquez told the conductor to stop the train, while Penny told bystanders to call the police. By this time, two other men had assisted Penny, while Vázquez began to record the incident.

 The recording of Neely in a chokehold is nearly four minutes long.

 After two minutes, a man entered the train and told Penny, “If you suffocate him, that’s it.  You don’t want to catch a murder charge.” Penny released the choke hold, but Neely was unconscious. Neely died in the hospital from what the medical examiner determined to be compression of the neck.

 Neely’s death was ruled a homicide; Penny wasn’t charged, and protesters took to the streets of New York.

 We all know that homicide refers to any killing of one person by another, and it does not always imply a criminal act. According to Vázquez’s account, Penny did not intend to murder Neely, but it’s clear Penny caused Neely’s death.

 Vázquez’s standard narrative should have sparked serious public debate as to whether Penny should be charged with voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, whether Penny was justified in protecting passengers from harm, and whether self-defense negates manslaughter.

 However, viewpoint narratives bombarded the national dialogue before Penny’s name was released to the public. These viewpoint narratives reveal the self-serving nature of the Right and the Left.

 Here are the most egregious.

 A progressive congresswoman said Neely was houseless and crying for food at a time when the city is raising rent and stripping services. This narrative implies that if the city provided affordable housing, higher wages, and access to psychiatric care, Neely wouldn’t have been on the subway destitute and deranged. Neely’s poverty and poor mental state are byproducts of a broken and sick capitalist system, and Neely died because society failed him.

 Right-wing content creators condemned the protesters, who were demanding that Penny be charged with Neely’s death. These content creators emphasized that Neely was arrested over 40 times in the past decade. Then labeled “the Jordan Neely protests” as George Floyd 2.0. This label reinforced the narrative that the Left will martyr a Black criminal in order to demand systemic change or social justice. Meanwhile, it’s the Left’s soft-on-crime policies that create the need for law-abiding citizens to make America safe again.

 A Black progressive talk show host who authored a book titled Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, From Ferguson to Flint and Beyond, called the death of Jordan Neely a 21st century lynching. This narrative suggests that a White man can kill a homeless Black man without being criminally charged because, in a White supremacist society, Black lives don’t matter and a homeless Black man is nobody.

 A Black conservative talk show host told his audience that Neely’s father abandoned him when he was a toddler and that his mother was killed during his teenage years. All of Jordan Neely’s problems stem from the loss of his parents. This narrative suggests that the system didn’t fail Jordan Neely. The root cause of Neely’s failure to become a productive citizen in the land of opportunity is the breakdown of the family.

 Daniel Penny eventually surrendered to police and is set to face manslaughter charges. Needless to say, the second round of viewpoint narratives will be even more self-serving by the Right and the Left.




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