Protestors crowded the F train station Wednesday in response to the chokehold death of Jordan Neely, chanting “Housing, not cops,” and “Homeless lives matter” alongside repeated calls for justice.
Protestors packed the platform at Manhattan’s Broadway/Lafayette station Wednesday afternoon, decrying the death of a 30-year-old man who died two days earlier after a being put in a chokehold by another subway passenger, an incident that was at least partially captured on video and shared widely on social media.
The New York Times identified the deceased as Jordan Neely, who was known for performing as a Michael Jackson impersonator in subway stations and had been homeless for the last several years, according to the paper.
Outrage mounted Wednesday over the incident, as did calls for police to arrest the man who held Neely down, who officials have yet to publicly name (a witness told the Times that the unidentified rider initiated the chokehold after Neely acted “erratically” and screamed on the train). No one was in custody as of Wednesday afternoon, but the investigation is ongoing, an NYPD spokeswoman said.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office confirmed it’s also investigating the incident. “This is a solemn and serious matter that ended in the tragic loss of Jordan Neely’s life,” a spokesperson for DA Alvin Bragg said in a statement.
“I haven’t eaten—it made me sick,” activist Milton Perez, who attended the protest, said of his reaction when he heard the news of Neely’s death.
Perez is member and leader of the Homeless Union at the advocacy group Vocal NY, which in a statement Wednesday attributed the killing to “systemic abandonment and dehumanization of people experiencing homelessness and mental health complexities, fueled by press coverage that clearly influences policies and emboldens vigilantes.”
“It’s been a long time with this rhetoric—blaming homeless people or people with mental health [disorders] for everything,” Perez said.
Both Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul have made subway safety a key focus of their administrations, launching an initiative last year that added hundreds of police officers to patrol the transit system and to remove unhoused people from stations and trains. Late last year, Adams issued a directive allowing police officers and other first responders to “involuntarily transport” people experiencing mental health crises to hospitals.
“When the leaders of our city and state put the bulk of their resources into trying to make people who are struggling disappear for the comfort of people with power, this is what happens,” the homeless advocacy group Open Hearts Initiative said in a statement. “This killing is a horrifying reminder of how people’s perception of safety—feeling uncomfortable or unsettled by another person’s behavior—is used to justify very real harm.”
People experiencing homelessness are more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. The city recorded 684 deaths among its homeless population in the most recent fiscal year that ended in June 2022, the deadliest year since it began tracking that data. The increase was largely fueled by an uptick in drug overdoses; 15 deaths last year were classified as homicides.
In a statement Wednesday night, City Council Speaker Adrienne called Neely “a New Yorker, a son, and a performer.”
“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,” she said. “Everyone in our city and nation should be reflecting on what this incident represents and says about us.”
Protestors crowded the F train station Wednesday, chanting “Housing, not cops,” and “Homeless lives matter.” Someone had inked “Who killed Jordan Neely?” in black marker along a tiled subway wall, while another person spray painted the words “Jordan was murdered here,” on the platform floor.
Popi Sen, who attended the protest and led the crowd in a chant calling for justice, said the lack of an arrest in the incident so far “is a reflection of the broader priorities of the NYPD and our city government,” and like other attendees, called for greater investments in housing and mental health resources.
“For people to see what was happening, and do nothing—this is all because of this propaganda, this us-versus-them mentality, this fear-mongering really, about poverty,” said another attendee who asked to be identified only as RB.
Mayor Adams declined to comment in detail on the incident, saying “there’s a lot we don’t know about what happened here,” according to a statement.
“However, we do know that there were serious mental health issues in play here, which is why our administration has made record investments in providing care to those who need it and getting people off the streets and the subways, and out of dangerous situations,” the mayor said.