Some call NYC subway choking criminal, others hold judgment

·5 min read

NEW YORK (AP) — The choking death of a man at the hands of another New York subway rider was setting off powerful reactions Thursday, with some calling it a criminal, racist act even as authorities reserved judgment on the killing.

New York has become one of the nation's safest large cities, but the emotional responses recalled the metropolis of decades ago, when residents felt besieged by crime and fatal vigilantism made national headlines.

Manhattan prosecutors promised a “rigorous” investigation into whether to bring charges in the death of the Black man, who was tackled by fellow passengers and put in the chokehold by a white Marine veteran.

The medical examiner’s office ruled Wednesday night that Jordan Neely, 30, died in a homicide caused by compression of the neck but the office said that any determination about criminal culpability would be left to the legal system.

Regardless, many New Yorkers saw the choking as the latest in a long history of attacks on Black city residents.

“We’re like animals in white people's backyards. They want to get rid of us,” said Diango Cici, a 53-year-old Manhattan resident.

Neely, who in the past had earned money imitating Michael Jackson, died Monday after an early-afternoon confrontation aboard a train beneath Manhattan. Neely, who had been homeless at points, according to people who knew him, had been shouting at fellow passengers when another rider wrapped his arm around his neck and pinned him on the floor. Two other passengers also helped restrain Neely.

Marine recruits are routinely taught about executing and defending against chokeholds, which can render someone unconscious in as few as eight seconds, according to a military manual revised in 2020.

The lethal risks of chokeholds led New York City to ban police officers from using them. An officer was fired for using a chokehold on Eric Garner, a Black New Yorker whose dying words “I can't breathe” became a chant in protests against racial injustice.

A U.S. Department of Justice website called chokeholds “inherently dangerous” and said that they have “too often led to tragedy.”

No one has been arrested but the Manhattan district attorney’s office said late Wednesday it would review autopsy reports, as well as “assess all available video and photo footage, identify and interview as many witnesses as possible, and obtain additional medical records.”

Police questioned the 24-year-old who the video showed holding Neely in a headlock for at least 3 minutes — perhaps longer — but released him without charges. His name was not released by police, but his relationship with the Marines was disclosed by a law enforcement official who wasn’t authorized to make the information public and spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was not yet complete.

It was not clear why passengers had moved to restrain Neely. One witness, a freelance journalist who was on the train and recorded Neely becoming unconscious as he was restrained, said that while Neely was acting aggressively and threw his jacket, he hadn't attacked anyone.

In the absence of video showing what might have precipitated the attack, many were reserving judgment.

Among those reserving judgment was Mayor Eric Adams, who said Thursday that there were “many layers” to the incident. He pushed back against criticism that he has not expressed enough outrage over Neely's death, unlike other officials who have called for a quick arrest.

“All the other electeds, they have a role to play and I have a role to play. The police is doing their investigation and the district attorney is doing his investigation, and I respect the process,” Adams said.

Governor Kathy Hochul called the videotaped encounter “horrific to view," adding that Neely's “family deserves justice.” But the governor said she was watching how the matter unfolds.

“Just looking at that video, you know, it’s wrong. No one has the right to take the life of another person. And in this circumstance, I have said all along and have stood firm in our commitment to helping people with mental health challenges, giving them an alternative,” Hochul said while taking questions from reporters after a meeting with union workers in Manhattan.

“Sometimes people have an episode where they’re displaying their feelings in a loud and emotional way,” she said, “but it became very clear that he was not going to cause harm to these other people. And the video of three individuals holding him down until the last breath was snuffed out of him — I would say it was a very extreme response.”

A group of protesters gathered Wednesday afternoon in the station where Neely died to call for an arrest.

Kyle Ishmael, a 38-year-old Harlem resident, said the video of the incident left him feeling “disgusted.”

“I couldn’t believe this was happening on my subway in my city that I grew up in,” he said.

Street performers who knew him described Neely as a kind and gifted impressionist, who sank into a depression as a result of his mother’s death. According to news accounts at the time, Christie Neely was strangled in 2007. Neely, who was 14 when she died, testified against his mother’s boyfriend at his murder trial.

Tari Tudesco, a back-up dancer in the Michael Jackson tribute act “Michael’s Mirror,” said many in the community had grown worried about Neely’s absence in recent years, and had begun searching for him, unsuccessfully.

“We were in shock to find now that he was living homeless,” she said. “We feel terrible.”


Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York; and reporters Lolita Baldor in Washington and Maysoon Kahn in Albany, New York, contributed to this report.

Jake Offenhartz And Bobby Caina Calvan, The Associated Press