The New York Times Is Running Vile Dreck About Jordan Neely
David French's latest op-ed is a thinly-disguised justification of Neely's killing.
This past Friday, 24-year-old Daniel Penny turned himself in and was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on charges of second-degree manslaughter for strangling 30-year-old Jordan Neely to death on the floor of a subway car. (For the uninitiated, it’s choking when something blocks your windpipe from the inside; it’s strangulation when a former Marine does it from the outside). To date, there’s been no clear explanation as to why it took nearly officials nearly two weeks to charge Penny, or why police had initially released him from their custody the very same day he placed Neely, an unhoused man seemingly in the midst of a mental health crisis, in that fatal chokehold.
What is clear, however, is that Penny is in the process of becoming the latest in a long line of vigilante folk heroes among conservatives who salivate at normalizing violence against the undesirable and vulnerable. That he’s being treated like a cop is no surprise given that his decision to strangle Neely is ultimately indistinguishable from the sanctioned use of lethal force broadly granted to police in the name of “normalcy” and “public order.” Like Kyle Rittenhouse, Darren Wilson, and former Minneapolis Police Officer Thomas Lane before him, Penny is now the multimillion-dollar beneficiary of an enormous crowdfunding effort for his legal defense which has attracted donations of some of the worst shitbirds on Earth (the quickest way to get rich in this country is to kill a Black person on camera). Conversely, Neely’s family has raised less than a tenth of that for his burial.
Enter David French, the right-wing New York Times columnist who misses the days when America dropped atomic bombs and praises southern anti-abortion laws as having “seceded from the culture of death.” On Monday, French published a lengthy opinion piece for the Times framed as a lament for the breakdown of “public order” (there’s that phrase again!) that lead to Penny strangling Neely.
It’s important to pay attention to the tragedy of Jordan Neely and to the man who killed him with a chokehold on a New York City subway train on May 1, Daniel Penny. The rule of law is failing on New York’s subways. In this case, Neely was obviously the principal victim of this failure. But he was not the only one.
This is a classic both-sides sleight-of-hand trick, and if French deserves credit for anything it’s for how brazen he is in trying to minimize Neely’s wholly preventable killing. “Oh no no no,” French is saying. “Of COURSE it’s a TRAGEDY that this person who was simply yelling and panicked on a train was STRANGLED to DEATH by a stranger. But…..”
For paragraph after paragraph, French bemoans that “the rule of law has to apply to the most and least powerful citizens, or we will create a culture of impunity that can disrupt daily lives and, ultimately, dangerously destabilize communities.” But what he’s really upset about is that Neely was on the train in the first place. After exhaustively running down Neely’s alleged criminal rap sheet, French concludes that “Neely should not have been in that subway car; he should have still been in the treatment facility or in jail. But he was on the subway, and his conduct was deeply disturbing.”
Here again is that French sleight-of-hand; in essence, he’s asking readers to agree that Neely was the victim of a city that studiously prioritizes the comfort of those in power at the expense of those in real need of fundamental help (true!) but because his presence made people uncomfortable (also true!) then his death is kind of a bummer, but for, like society, maaaaan (fucking…what??)
He writes (emphasis mine):
It’s a failure of the rule of law that these questions come up so frequently. And this failure places passengers under serious pressure. It puts them in tense situations where the proper course of action isn’t clear. Both action and inaction have their risks. What if Penny had done nothing? Would everyone—including Neely—have emerged from that subway car unscathed? We can’t know for certain, and that lack of certainty creates the conditions for violence.
I should note that this paragraph comes after French lists a number of other crimes that have been committed on New York City subway cars. His goal, then, is to use those entirely unrelated incidents—incidents in which people actually hurt one another, and didn’t simply yell like Neely is alleged to have done—as a basis to justify a trained United States Marine feeling “tense” enough to strangle an innocent man to death. It’s the natural conservative evolution from the “see something, say something” panopticon into a “feel something, kill something” free-for-all. So long as the victim can be neatly compartmentalized as existing outside the norms of “civil society” (French’s term) then his death at the hands of someone considered more socially acceptable is worthy of existential hand-wringing that would never happen if Neely and Penny’s positions were reversed.
With that in mind, French’s ultimate conclusion is as pathetic as it is ghoulish:
The best way to resolve these problems isn’t through jury trials of those, like Penny, who take it upon themselves to intervene (as necessary as those trials may be) but rather through the preservation of public order by the just application of the law and the generous provision of public support.
Ohhhhh, so prosecuting someone for killing another person isn’t going to solve the “problem” that some people (particularly Black, unhoused, people with mental health problems) make other people (particularly David French and his pals) feel uncomfortable? Shocking! Wow! Can’t believe no one has ever thought of this before! Is the real solution to just do the law…better? Goodness, get a load of the revolutionary thinker we’ve got over here!
Of course “society” failed Jordan Neely. No one should think for a second that his life wasn’t punctuated by indignities and injustices both large and small. But to abstract his existence as a human being into a series of societal failures to justify Neely’s death at the hands of a stranger in a “tense situation” is to preemptively give the next Daniel Penny the benefit of the doubt. And so long as the Times keeps publishing things like this, there is no question that there will be another Daniel Penny. And another. And another.