Frequent riders of the New York City subway system had become accustomed to the antics of a busking Michael Jackson impersonator over the years. Jordan Neely, for a several year stretch, could be found moonwalking to the sounds of an old radio between the bench seats of the city’s packed mass transit.
Of course, Neely’s fellow subway passengers had no way of knowing his tragic backstory. In 2007, Neely had testified against his mother’s murderer: a boyfriend who had killed her, hid her body in a suitcase, and left Neely alone and, apparently, homeless.
Five years later, he was working the train in his double-breasted, shiny-buttoned, Michael Jackson getup. For a while, he seems to have done pretty well. People shared his moves on YouTube, and his act seemed to be appreciated.
But somewhere around 2012, something apparently snapped. An online forum user (Reddit), created a post warning subway riders that Neely had changed: “Try to stay away from the Michael Jackson impersonator if you see him,” it warned. “Used to be all cool, dancing to MJ in the subway train, but as of late he’s become a maniac.
Sometime in late Spring/early Summer I saw him in the train, his radio f***** up and he was angry as f***, cursing and bad mouthing commuters screaming “What the f*** are you looking at? Don’t f****** look at me!” Totally didn’t expect him to act as such.
Ever since that day he’s just been a scary dude to me. He doesn’t dress up anymore. No more dancing…just asks for money. Occasionally shouting obscenities…
“Just avoid the guy at all costs, try not to look at him at all. Stay safe.”
Pictures embedded in the post confirmed it referred to Jordan Neely.
Ten years later, Neely’s tragic position doesn’t seem to have gotten any better, and the “Redditor’s” warning proved true. In the past decade, Jordan Neely was arrested 42 times, including four times for assault, two of which were on the subway, both against senior citizens. And he once plead guilty to kidnapping a 7 year-old girl, whom he was caught dragging down the street. He’d also allegedly tried to push people into the train tracks.
May 2, 2023 found him riding the F train, shouting that ““I don’t care if I die. I don’t care if I go to jail. I don’t have any food … I’m done,” according to fellow passenger Juan Alberto Vazquez.
According to CNN, “At some point, Neely threw his jacket on the train’s floor, repeating he was ready to go to jail and get a life sentence, Vazquez said.
Some subway riders moved to other parts of the train car.”
Doubtless, the other riders were wondering how he might go about getting this life sentence, and wishing they weren’t there in case he wanted to use them as his ticket.
This was the Jordan Neely encountered by former Marine Daniel Penny, who placed the disturbed man in a chokehold and brought him to the floor, holding him for roughly seven minutes, according to Vasquez.
Somewhere during that time, Neely passed out. Penny released the unconscious man and put him in a recovery position, and passengers called 911. At the next stop Neely was brought to the hospital, where he tragically died.
Jordan Neely’s life and death were a tragedy. His aunt told reporters that he was never the same after his mother’s murder. “It had a big impact on him. He developed depression and it grew and became more serious. He was schizophrenic, PTSD. Doctors knew his condition and he needed to be treated for that.”
But he wasn’t. He was left to fend for himself, alone, confused, and violent and Daniel Penny was left to decide how to handle an erratic and threatening fellow passenger. He chose to act in defense of himself and others.
In a sensible world, we could recognize both the tragedy of Jordan Neely’s circumstances and the courage of Daniel Penny to seek to prevent him from injuring anyone. But we do not live in a sensible world, and Mr. Neely was homeless, and Mr. Penny is white, so instead of focusing on what can be done to help others like Neely, all the usual suspects from Black Lives Matter to the NAACP to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez are crying ‘oppression!’
AOC tweeted this: “Jordan Neely was murdered.
“But [because] Jordan was houseless and crying for food in a time when the city is raising rents and stripping services to militarize itself while many in power demonize the poor, the murderer gets protected w/ passive headlines + no charges.
The masses have already begun to gather for the familiar “peaceful” protests, with at least 11 having already been arrested and a Molotov cocktail being seized.
The White House also chipped in today, calling Neely’s death “tragic and deeply disturbing,” and saying that, “We firmly believe that the events surrounding his death demand a thorough investigation.”
But, Daniel Penny wasn’t the only military man in the news last week, and while the left expresses skepticism that Daniel Penny’s motives were righteous, their treatment of Navy Yeoman Joshua Kelley presents a marked contrast.
Yeoman Kelley recently finished up a stint as one of the U.S Navy’s “digital ambassadors,” an online personality who uses social media to make military service seem fun and exciting.
Joshua Kelley wasn’t chosen because of any act of bravery or notable success, but because, on his free time, he becomes “Harpy Daniels,” his drag queen alter-ego.
To quote the Federalist’s Elaine Donnelly, “The sailor’s Instagram page displays photos and TikTok videos of Kelley flashing between his uniform and glitzy drag outfits, multi-colored wigs, stage makeup, and burlesque poses. This is the same sailor that Navy Times photographed in 2018 performing a drag queen strip tease to entertain fellow crewmembers on the carrier Ronald Reagan.”
What set of parallel circumstances could better illustrate the cultural crossroads of our day? What will our society celebrate? A veteran who steps in to protect his fellow passengers from a belligerent, mentally ill homeless man, even one with a tragic backstory? Or will we celebrate a gender-bending deviant soldier who seeks to entertain his fellow soldiers by stripping for them?
These two soldiers present contrasting visions of the ideal military, or even civilian, man. Which will prevail in our society?
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