More than a week after 30-year-old Jordan Neely was killed on a New York City subway car by a fellow passenger, Mayor Eric Adams offered his most in-depth comments on the killing in a live-streamed address from City Hall. “Jordan Neely’s life mattered,” Adams said on Wednesday. “He was suffering from severe mental illness. That was not the cause of his death. His death is a tragedy that never should have happened.”
Neely, a Black man who was homeless and had a history of mental illness, was put into a deadly chokehold on a subway car by Daniel Penny, a white former Marine, after Neely reportedly came onto the car and started yelling at other passengers. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is investigating Neely’s death, but no charges have been filed.
As he has repeatedly over the past week, Adams declined to comment on Penny’s actions, and on Wednesday he didn’t even mention how Neely died. “The circumstances surrounding his death are still being investigated,” Adams said. “While we have no control over that process, one thing we can control is how our city responds to this tragedy. One thing we can say for sure: Jordan Neely did not deserve to die.”
Neely’s death has sparked outrage and some protests in the city, with some New Yorkers calling for Penny’s arrest. Both Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul faced criticism last week for statements that some other lawmakers saw as not immediately or clearly condemning Neely’s killing.
On Monday, Neely’s family made a direct appeal to Adams to reach out to them. “Mayor Eric Adams please give us a call. The family wants you to know that Jordan matters,” the family said in a statement through attorneys. Adams later said that he had attempted reaching out to them.
In his address on Wednesday, Adams said that his heart goes out to Neely’s family and noted that his own son shares a first name with Neely. “No family should have to suffer a loss like this,” he said. “Too many Black and brown families bear the brunt of a system long overdue for reform. Our work starts with acknowledging that we must reverse the effects of decades of disinvestment in housing, health care and social services.”
Adams largely focused on the city’s and state’s role in providing mental health resources and care to those suffering from serious mental illness. In particular, he called for passage of a legislative agenda first laid out last November that he said would address “gaps” in the state’s Mental Hygiene Law that make it more difficult to provide treatment to those with serious mental illness. That includes barriers to involuntary hospitalization, which Adams has already turned to in the city.
Some homeless advocacy organizations have pushed back against involuntary hospitalization as a solution. “While #JordanNeely had a history of mental health complexities, it was clear from his own words that the moment he was attacked he was simply hungry and exhausted,” VOCAL-NY tweeted on Wednesday afternoon. “This should not trigger coercive care – something the Mayor is proposing.”
Current state law allows police or health care workers to involuntarily hospitalize people whose behavior is seen to pose a threat of serious harm to themselves or others. The legislative agenda, which Adams said he would be pushing in the final weeks of the state legislative session in Albany, includes an attempt to clarify that an individual can pose serious harm to themselves even when their behavior doesn’t appear violent or dangerous.