By Errol Louis
THE NEW YORKER – For some New Yorkers, Jordan Neely was dead even before Marine Corps veteran Daniel Penny allegedly choked the life out of him on the floor of a subway train. Modern America, including New York, designates some categories of people as socially dead — part of a underclass that is subject to exclusion, indifference, or even outright hatred and violence. To be Black, destitute, homeless, and mentally ill in our city is to be one of those outsiders, existing in a kind of internal exile from society’s circle of care and concern.
“I don’t have food, I don’t have a drink, I’m fed up,” Neely screamed in the final minutes of his life, according to Juan Alberto Vázquez, a freelance journalist on the train who recorded the incident. “I don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison. I’m ready to die.” It seemed to be a complaint shouted to the heavens, aimed at nobody in particular. Neely “didn’t seem like he wanted to hurt anyone,” Vázquez later said. But the doomed man’s words were sadly accurate about the choices he believed New York offered: prison or death.