Black Americans say white vigilantism played a role in Jordan Neely’s murder
Jordan Neely was choked to death in the middle of the day on a New York City subway car on Monday, and since then people from New York City’s leaders to media commentators have put the focus on the 30-year-old Black man’s mental health.
But Jordan Neely didn’t kill himself. He was killed, and not by his medical history. A 24-year-old white ex-marine put him in a chokehold for “some 15 minutes”, according to Juan Alberto Vazquez, a witness at the scene, and the medical examiner has ruled Neely’s death a homicide. So instead of focusing on Neely’s past, maybe we should be asking what kind of state of mind does it take to strangle a man to death in public.
For Donald Grant, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, the deadly act represents a white vigilantism that has become an ever-present threat to Black Americans, manifested in the killings of many men and women whose names have made up headlines and hashtags over decades.
“It reignites the terror in the souls of Black folks when we witness these killings of our people without trial, without jury, without adjudication,” said Grant, author of the book "White on White Crime: Old Lies in Contemporary Times."
“This vigilante activity is really a reminder of the dangerous conditions that Black Americans exist in now,” he added.
It’s not enough that Black people are killed, Grant said. It’s that each killing requires “public outrage for our humanity to be recognized in a way that doesn’t allow us to be murdered like animals in public spaces.”
Neely died Monday because of “compression of neck,” a spokesperson for the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said.
The outrage that Neely, who had a history of mental illness and was homeless, according to lawyers, could be strangled to death in front of passengers on a New York subway conjured concerns of vigilantes taking action against Black people, said Tyrone Irby, a native New Yorker who now lives in Durham, North Carolina.
Irby said the incident reminded him of people like George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain who shot teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in 2012; or Gregory and Travis McMichael, a father and son who gunned down Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery three years ago with their friend William Bryan. After Arbery’s killing, Irby created Together We Stand, an organization that supports meaningful conversation among people of different races to bring about change.