‘I’m tired already. I don’t care if I go to jail and get locked up. I’m ready to die.’”
These were the reported words Jordan Neely said before he was choked to death on the F train.
Neely, before he became the latest emblem of our city’s grapple with mental health and homelessness, was a well-known Michael Jackson performer.
But more importantly, he was a man. He was a person. He was someone in need.
Neely reportedly suffered from mental health challenges in recent years, as his sunny disposition as a performer waned. He had a long rap sheet, having been arrested 42 times. He certainly made commuters nervous on the train with his yelling. But he didn’t deserve to die.
What he did deserve was care and treatment. What he deserved wasn’t a revolving door of incarceration or medical stints that made him no better of a citizen when released. What he deserved was a city that marshaled its immense resources to make sure he could be the best version of himself and not a corpse lying on the cold floor of a subway car or the front page of our tabloids, or a flickering image on the nightly news.
His death has sparked protests across the city, calling for his death to be the last of its kind. And in some darker corners of the city, his death has been celebrated – confusing machismo vigilantism for courage.
Many days, the same scenario plays out differently. An emotionally disturbed person gets on the train, causing some kind of commotion. We nestle into our phones or switch subway cars or just do anything to avoid eye contact. And then we move on with our days.
But that cannot be the answer either – to have the de facto public health policy be wanton indifference to another New Yorker in need.
In the financial center of the richest country in the world, and in the city home to more millionaires than anywhere else on the planet, it is plainly unacceptable and unconscionable that Neely didn’t get the care he needed.
If we want to be serious about public safety, it’s going to take more than increasing the NYPD budget. We need our officials to demand a large influx of federal dollars to revamp our mental health care system – from construction of facilities to more outreach teams and more forms of care.
If we don’t all fight for that, then we are all complicit.