Protests in New York over chokehold killing of homeless man on the subway

·3-min read

Protesters have gathered in New York City after a Black homeless man was choked to death on the subway by an army veteran.

Jordan Neely, 30, was reportedly shouting about how he needed food and water at rail passengers when a white man, described as a former marine, grabbed him and put him in a fatal chokehold.

He was taken to hospital and declared dead. His death was ruled a homicide caused by compression of the neck.

Jordan Neely impersonated Michael Jackson on the subway for money (TNS via Getty)
Jordan Neely impersonated Michael Jackson on the subway for money (TNS via Getty)

Neely had earned money imitating Michael Jackson and died Monday after an early-afternoon confrontation aboard a train beneath Manhattan.

He 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.

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 aunt Carolyn called Mr Neely a “very talented black man who loves to dance”, in a GoFundMe page.

“Jordan deserves justice. He was loved,” Ms Neely told the BBC.


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.

Many New Yorkers saw the choking as the latest in a long history of attacks on the city’s Black residents.

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

During an appearance on CNN on Tuesday night, Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, said there were still too many unknowns.

“We don’t know exactly what happened here,” Adams said, adding that “we cannot just blatantly say what a passenger should or should not do in a situation like that, and we should allow the investigation to take its course.”

A group of protesters gathered Wednesday afternoon in the station where Neely died to call for an arrest. Neely was recognized by some New Yorkers as a Michael Jackson impersonator who sometimes busked at subway stations.

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.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton demanded in a statement that Neely’s death be investigated as a potential case of manslaughter. Sharpton referenced the Bernhard Goetz case in 1984, in which a white gunman was convicted of a weapons offence after he shot four Black men on a subway train.

“We cannot end up back to a place where vigilantism is tolerable. It wasn’t acceptable then and it cannot be acceptable now,” Sharpton said.

Mr Neely’s death sparked an argument between New York City Mayor Eric Adams and New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

On Wednesday, the mayor tweeted that “any loss of life is tragic”, but that there was “a lot we don’t know about what happened here, so I’m going to refrain from commenting further”.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez said the statement marked “a new low: not being able to clearly condemn a public murder because the victim was of a social status some would deem ‘too low’ to care about”.