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Mayor Adams says his ‘heart breaks’ for Jordan Neely amid ongoing anger over shocking chokehold death

After several days of not commenting directly on Jordan Neely’s killing at the hands of ex-Marine Daniel Penny, who put Neely in a fatal chokehold on a Manhattan subway car last week, Mayor Eric Adams said Tuesday morning that his “heart breaks” for Neely’s loss.

Adams made what appeared to be his first public remarks mentioning Neely by name and sharing his feelings on the incident, following nearly a week of mostly sticking to a statement in which he said “any loss of life is tragic,” but because much about Neely’s death was still unknown, he would “refrain from commenting further.”

“My heart breaks when we lost young Jordan,” Adams said during the National Urban League’s Safe and Just Communities Summit at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The mayor also noted Jordan is in fact the name of his own son, Jordan Coleman, repeating something he’d said the night before when a reporter with the news site The City asked him for a response to Neely’s family’s attorneys urging him to reach out to them in a Monday statement. He told the reporter he had reached out to Neely’s family “several times to give them my condolences.”

“Many people miss the fact that Jordan is my son’s name,” he said on Tuesday. “And I think about [that] every time I lose a young man or woman throughout this entire country that are falling victim to so many levels.”

Through a spokesperson, Adams told The City on Monday that Neely’s death was an “incredible tragedy” and that his “deepest sympathies are with the Neely family.”

The incident took place last Monday, when Neely, a 30-year-old homeless Black man who struggled with mental health issues, was reportedly screaming at passengers on a Manhattan F train that he was hungry, thirsty and “ready to die,” according to published reports that cited eyewitnesses. One of those witnesses is Juan Alberto Vazquez — a freelance journalist who captured a nearly 4-minute video of the events leading to Neely’s death.

While it’s unclear exactly what happened next, Penny, 24, ended up putting Neely in a chokehold and holding him on the ground for several minutes with the help of at least two other passengers. Neely was later taken to Lenox Hill Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The incident was ruled a homicide by the city’s medical examiner last Wednesday, who determined Neely died from compression of the neck.

Penny was questioned by police after the incident, but quickly released without being charged with a crime. Penny’s attorneys released a statement Friday insisting Neely was acting “aggressively threatening” to him and the other passengers. They said Penny put Neely in a chokehold as a self-defense measure until the police arrived but “never intended to harm” him and “could not have foreseen his untimely death.”

No charges had been filed against Penny as of Tuesday afternoon, but the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and NYPD are both investigating and actively seeking information from witnesses.

Protesters clash with NYPD at a vigil for Jordan Neely, who was killed after being placed in a chokehold last week.Photo by Dean Moses

In the wake of Neely’s killing, heated debates have sprung up across the five boroughs about the city’s ability to help those with mental health issues and its street homeless population, as well as over race and vigilantism. The incident has also sparked a string of protests and vigils on the streets and in the subways over the past several days, where demonstrators have called for Penny to be arrested and charged.

The protests have led to a number of brutal arrests by the NYPD, including of a well-known photojournalist getting cuffed outside the Broadway-Lafayette Street station Monday night.

Since last Wednesday, Adams has been the subject of criticism over his decision to refrain from strongly condemning Neely’s killing and calling for accountability. Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez last week characterized Neely’s death as a “public murder” and said Adams had hit “a new low” for not taking a stronger stance.

During his Tuesday morning remarks, Adams — who has spent much of his first 16 months in office speaking about public safety and subway homelessness — said his administration has already been taking a proactive approach to cases such as Neely’s by encouraging homeless individuals living on the subways to enter shelters.

That effort, dubbed the “Subway Safety Plan,” has led 4,000 homeless individuals living on the subways to enter city shelters — 1,300 of whom are still in the system — since it launched in early 2022, city Department of Social Services Commissioner Molly Wasow Park said during a Monday City Council budget hearing.

“We cannot be so encompassed and so thoughtful on talking about merely how this man died without answering the question: how was he living?” Adams said. “I’ve been in the subway system for almost two years now talking to [homeless individuals], trying to get them off the system in the care that they deserve. I don’t want us to be energized when we have a death and not energized when there’s conditions that’s creating the deaths that are at our hands.”

Neely himself had cycled in and out of city shelters and jails for several years, bringing him into contact with many homeless outreach workers, according to a report, but his problems still persisted.

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