New York mayor Eric Adams has warned that there are “more Jordan Neelys out there”, invoking the name of the unhoused man who was killed on the subway earlier in May as the Democratic mayor pushed his idea to force people with mental illness to access help.
In an interview with MSNBC on Sunday, Adams called a dearth of such services – particularly for the city’s unhoused population – “a very real issue”.
Neely, 30, died after 24-year-old Daniel Penny put him in a chokehold. Penny, who previously served in the marines, has been charged with manslaughter despite his claims of self-defense in a case that has inflamed racial tensions nationwide because he is white and Neely was Black.
Adams said: “The case is now in the hands of the district attorney. I have a lot of confidence in DA [Alvin] Bragg.
“I am clear on this. I can’t control the outcome of the case but I can control how we continue to address a very real issue,” Adams said. New York saw street protests demanding Penny’s arrest for Neely’s death.
Adams alluded to earlier remarks that he had made calling for the “involuntary removal to the hospitals of those who are unable to take care of basic needs and they are [a] danger to themselves”.
In November, Adams announced plans for authorities and emergency services to more aggressively hospitalize mentally ill people involuntarily, even if they do not pose any active threat to others.
At the time of the announcement, Adams said his directive was an attempt to clear up a “gray area where policy, law and accountability have not been clear”, and he said that it was an “moral obligation to act” in response to a “crisis we see all around us”.
Adams’s announcement faced swift backlash from civil rights organizations, unhoused people and their advocates, with the New York Civil Liberties Union accusing Adams of “playing fast and loose with the legal rights of New Yorkers and … not dedicating the resources necessary to address the mental health crises”.
During Sunday’s interview, Adams urged the codification of involuntary removals, saying: “We need state health to codify what the courts have already ruled. That is the real issue. There are more Jordan Neelys out there.
“And when I’m in the subway system speaking with them trying to get them into care, we know that we have to have help on a state level to codify this law.”
Last year, the mayor, a former police officer, also announced a new subway safety plan and promised the expansion of outreach teams consisting of clinicians and police officers, which critics also condemned as cracking down against people experiencing mental illness and homelessness.
Prior to his death, Neely had been a Michael Jackson impersonator. He had dealt with various mental health problems, including schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder after his mother was murdered by an abusive partner when Neely was 14.
According to police, Neely had over 40 prior arrests, and he had previously been accused of punching a fellow subway passenger. He also had over a dozen mental health encounters with police but had apparently not received mental health support.
On the day of his death, Neely boarded a train and pleaded to passengers that he was hungry, homeless and thirsty. Penny placed him in a chokehold for several minutes.
After Neely’s killing, Republicans have been swift to embrace Penny as he contests charges of second-degree manslaughter. More than $1m has been raised for Penny’s legal defense, largely through the Christian fundraising website GiveSendGo. The site also hosted fundraising efforts for US Capitol attack participants and Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot two racial justice demonstrators dead in Wisconsin and was acquitted of murder charges by claiming self-defense.
During Neely’s funeral at a Harlem church on Friday, the civil rights activist and pastor Al Sharpton called for more support for people living with mental illnesses.
“A Good Samaritan helps those in trouble. They don’t choke him out,” Sharpton said. “People keep criminalizing people that need help.
“They don’t need abuse – they need help.”
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