The Murder of Jordan Neely

Any true New Yorker knew who he was: a lean and beatific dancer who you would see around Times Square mimicking Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. He built up a graceful and resplendent performance from a well-known repertoire that Neely owned with his supple and silent dignity. Even if you were in a rush to get somewhere, you’d still need a minute to quietly collect your jaw from the ground after catching the blurs of his flying feet in your peripheral vision. If you were really lucky, you’d be able to see Neely bust out his steps on a subway car barreling between stations, watching him somehow sustain his center of gravity as the train swayed and careened and buckled. All this made him much more than a casual showtime busker hustling for a few bucks. He epitomized the true spirit of this city. And he deserved to live.

Tourists adored him. Gothamites respected him. There is no known method of quantifying the smiles he put on so many faces, but the tally surely must reach into six figures.

What few people knew about Neely — and the sad and enraging thing about this goddamned barbaric business is that it took a murderous Marine with a sick smirk and a passion for chokeholding for us to really know — was that the man was significantly troubled. He was betrayed by a heartless and broken system that left him for dead and that looked the other way as he lived with his pain. It was a pain that broke him. The emotional burden of living with hard and cruel knocks that all New Yorkers know, but that, without resources, becomes an abyss that is almost impossible to climb out from. A pain that had him screaming at the top of his lungs in a subway car on the first night of May, telling anyone who would listen that he was hungry and that he didn’t care and that he wanted to die. The trauma involving his mother being taken from him by a killer who was so cold that he packed her corpse into a suitcase. A pain that involved forty arrests for disorderly conduct, fare evasion, and assault.

But on Monday night on the subway, Neely was loud but not violent. He was a soul screaming for help. Help that he would never receive. Because the American experiment had rendered him invisible. And that’s when Daniel Penny, an unremarkable blond-haired thug from West Islip on his way to a date, decided to stub out this promising yet troubled light. Penny put Nelly into a chokehold for fifteen minutes. I called a friend trained in hand-to-hand combat, who informed me that you never put someone in a chokehold unless you plan to do serious business to a man. And with this disturbing intelligence, I can only conclude that Penny really wanted to kill a spirit that he savagely and sociopathically considered to be a nuisance. Penny was white. Neely was Black. So he also had that to his advantage.

But Penny also had the American climate in his favor. When a homeless man begs for help in a major metropolitan area, most Americans look the other way. When it comes to mass shootings, we offer “thoughts and prayers” instead of making legislative solutions happen. Lacking a pistol, Penny had his homicidal hands as well as two unidentified aides-de-camp holding Penny’s body down. He also had a scumbag “freelance journalist” by the name of Juan Alberto Vazquez, who never put his camera down even as Neely’s legs stopped twitching. “I witnessed a murder on the Manhattan subway today (there’s video!),” wrote Vazquez on Facebook while caught in the immediate afterglow that a used car salesman feels just after selling a lemon to some gullible mark.

In a just world, the murder of Jordan Neely would stain our city and our culture as much as the Kitty Genovese incident in 1964. It would shame us into actually doing something about it. But we don’t. Instead, we tell people to fend for themselves, accuse the indigent of being lazy and not looking for work, and we reduce SNAP benefits and cut homeless programs instead of putting everything we have into helping the most marginalized members of our society. We endure a colossally stupid and wildly arrogant mayor — the most insipid motherfucker we’ve ever had sitting adjacent to Park Row, a crooked former cop who has deluded himself into believing that he’s “the Biden of Brooklyn” — who has placed a substantive amount of the city’s money into cops — including a projected $740 million in NYPD overtime last year — rather than libraries and parks and affordable housing and mental health services and pretty much any program that would arguably reduce crime more effectively than broken windows bullshit. What was this putzbrained dunce’s remarks after the murder? “Any loss of life is tragic.” “There were serious mental health issues at play.” Followed by self-aggrandizing lies about his administration’s “large investments” in mental health. Which includes, for those not paying attention, authorizing his boys in blue, who aren’t trained to deal with those enduring a mental health crisis, to arrest anyone they deem to be fitting the profile.

Daniel Penny killed Jordan Neely. And he was not arrested. And his name was kept out of the newspapers for three days. Neely didn’t have that privilege.

What makes the Jordan Neely murder so unsettling is how it is the perfect amalgam of problems that our politicians refuse to tackle: racism, white privilege, the mental health epidemic, casual vigilantism, and, of course, the American bloodlust for violence. Republicans and Democrats have badly fumbled the football on these systemic ills and they choose to perceive this tableau of endless suffering as a game rather than a series of events that destroy and even end human lives. In these trying times, anyone with a moral conscience should be seriously considering hitting the reset switch and starting over, letting all these incompetent bastards pay the price in every election across the land. Because if this is who we are and this is what we now casually accept until the next tragedy happens, it’s clear that the status quo isn’t working. We are capable of building something better than this hideous funhouse of endless anguish, but we refuse to learn from France and revolt against these cruel and vainglorious aristocrats until they feel the palpable reality of losing political power.

An Angry Copy Editor on a Lonely Wednesday Night

Her 37-year-old boyfriend was passed out on the fraying sofa. Too much CBD. And he had only had one gummie. But, hey, it was legal now, wasn’t it? The copy editor looked at her sexually inexperienced boyfriend. She was not inexperienced. But her boyfriend’s body now resembled a fuselage with four stringy limbs in lieu of wings. So she was bored. And angry. Very angry. Despite the regular CBT sessions, the fury had somehow calcified and strengthened in her fifties.

A lifetime of perceiving nothing but disappointment will do that to a miserable person. Just look at Donald Trump, Jr.

Aside from her much younger boytoy, the copy editor’s life was largely joyless. She was a frustrated novelist working in a throwback publishing joint adhering to the finest workplace standards that 1998 had to offer. All handwritten work. It would be so much easier to do it electronically! And she tried to keep the peace in the office. She so wanted to be liked. But she knew that most of her five co-workers hated her. She didn’t know the exact number. Everyone, after all, played a chess game. It was all obliging smiles in the cubes and teenage titters during some of the post-work happy hour sessions that she’d reluctantly attended to show her fellow drones that she was a team player. But she knew they were talking about her behind her back. And it filled her with hate.

Hate. Forget about what Bukowski had written about it. Oh, she hated that misogynistic dirtbag. But Bukowski was small-time. Her hate was in the big time. It was the kind of hate that is impossible to shake off past the age of fifty, when you can’t find happiness or career fulfillment and your boyfriend’s mom somehow ends up being eight years older than you.

She had learned fairly fast that you needed a grandiose hate to work as a copyeditor. The copyeditor was the sworn enemy of the writer. Even the polite and obliging ones who had boned up on Strunk & White much like law students prepping to take the bar.

Hate was the greatest currency in the publishing industry. I mean, she had to spend all her long dull afternoons striking her pencil against ever-thinner sheets, masticating upon the eraser as she bemoaned yet another badly written piece from yet another doddering writer. A younger writer.

She had more of that to face tomorrow. But tonight was a different story. No, tonight, she would look for a main character. There was always a main character: someone who the Internet was presently ganging up on. And if she could find tonight’s main character, she would summon every ounce of hate she could about a stranger she didn’t know.

She hit TikTok, Twitter, Metafilter, the Fediverse, and Blue Sky. Where was he? Tonight’s main character? Where the fuck was he? And then she saw him. Or rather someone who had once been the main character ten years ago. A comment from that turd.

Did emeritus status apply to main characters? Sure. Why not?

And she moved in. Summoning all the hate she had in the tank. Because she didn’t have love. I mean, what she doled out to the 37-year-old was little more than the usual cultural reference bullshit, which always worked for younger and more gullible types, but never men her age. What she doled out to him was not love, but rather the very strong like that the dating scene in her city was all about. The very strong like that gives you the loophole to say “We’re moving in different directions” at brunch while one of you sobs uncontrollably after making the unfortunate mistake of catching feelings.

And he was there. His prose was still the same. Still hopped up on ten-cent modifiers and crunchy vitriol. It had to be that fucker. Sure, what she knew about him had happened ten years ago, but let the fucker die. Her fingers banged on the keyboard like thugs pelting crouched innocents with steel baseball bats. Kill him with words. Did she know a guy who knew a guy who could really kill him? Oh, she’d like that very much. The dopamine like that comes from hate!

She claimed that nobody liked him and that there were people far more successful than him. And that he would do nothing and be nothing.

What she didn’t know was that he was something.


And she logged off. And she was bored and angry again.

But the subject of her hate was not angry at all. He had built up his own dossier on this troll over the course of a car ride in which he had little else but his phone for company and he had found her. And he decided to spin some of this into a goofy story and laugh his ass off while writing it, knowing that the copy editor could not know what he knew. Because in his tale, he had only doled out only a small parcel of the considerable information she had revealed about herself. Now if he were a cruel man, which he really wasn’t, he would have sent this dossier to human resources so that they would know the full extent of her abusive online behavior: the messages etched with the telltale sentences of self-loathing and hate directed towards other people. But, no, he didn’t want to get her fired. He only wanted to settle the score with the tale.

Now maybe this mischievous writer is talking about someone real. Or maybe not. Maybe some of the details are fudged. Maybe not. A writer draws from his own experience and weaves lies into the mix to get you to care about subjects that you would normally not give a fuck about. A writer also knows what questions to ask, what phone calls and emails to make, what people will be on his side, and, perhaps most vitally, he knows that anyone who is so keenly fixated on a perceived enemy likely has other enemies because of the same glaring character flaws. (Writers, in this writer’s experience, tend to be the easiest marks. This writer, however, while taking egregiously gauche liberties by referring to himself in the third person, is not arrogant enough to discount himself as a mark.)

But, in the end, we ultimately know nothing about people we haven’t met or taken the trouble to know. And without that, all words are fiction marked up by a perfunctory shadow equally meaningless in her rage.