U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was among numerous progressives on Wednesday who expressed anger and disgust at the killing of Jordan Neely, an unhoused 30-year-old Black man who was choked to death by a fellow passenger on the New York City subway earlier this week.
Neely's death was ruled a homicide by the New York City medical examiner late Wednesday, but the 24-year-old former Marine who was filmed placing him in a chokehold had not been arrested as of Thursday morning.
Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who represents parts of The Bronx and Queens, was among the critics who linked the killing to an aggressive crackdown on New York's unhoused population and shredding of the city's public services, overseen by Democratic Mayor Eric Adams.
"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 with passive headlines and no charges," said Ocasio-Cortez. "It's disgusting."
According to news reports and eyewitness accounts, Neely had been screaming, "I don't have food, I don't have a drink, I'm fed up" and acting in a "hostile and erratic manner," but had not assaulted anyone on the train. The 24-year-old passenger approached him and placed him in a chokehold, holding him down for at least two minutes, according to a video taken by another rider named Juan Alberto Vazquez.
Neely was seen "flailing his arms and kicking his legs" as he was held down by the passenger and at least one other person, The New York Timesreported.
Anger erupted on social media and at protests late Wednesday as details of the killing were reported.
The outrage was compounded by Adams' official statement on the matter, in which the mayor suggested he has prioritized aid to unhoused New Yorkers and those struggling with mental health issues.
"We do know that there were serious mental health issues in play here, which is why my administration has made record investments in providing care to those who need it and getting people out of the streets and subways, and out of dangerous situations," said the mayor. "And I need all elected officials and advocacy groups to join us in prioritizing getting people the care they need and not just allowing them to languish."
Adams' method of "getting people out of the streets and subways," announced as part of a new initiative late last year, has relied heavily on the New York Police Department rather than social services and has been condemned by human rights organizations. The mayor has empowered police to forcibly commit unhoused New Yorkers to hospitals, placing struggling community members at greater risk for "violent police encounters," according to Human Rights Watch.
The mayor has also pushed budget cuts that have led to staffing shortages in the city's social services department, leading to delays in the processing of food assistance for low-income people; reduced funding for a program that allows mental health experts to respond to 911 calls regarding mental health crises; and reduced public housing funds.
Adams' comments were "especially rich coming from an administration trying to cut the very services that could have helped" Neely, said Ocasio-Cortez.
The congresswoman echoed the thoughts of several state and local lawmakers and advocacy groups, including the New York Working Families Party.
"Jordan needed care. Instead, he was brutally murdered. This is not who we are as New Yorkers," said the party.
Demonstrators gathered in at least one subway station late Wednesday to hold a vigil for Neely and demand accountability for the killing. NYPD officers were present at the demonstration and reportedly arrested at least three people after the organizers moved above ground.
Ocasio-Cortez was also among those who condemned the local media's and police department's decision to allow the suspect to remain anonymous and walk free as of Thursday, even as both entities have helped to push Adams' "tough on crime" approach.
"It is appalling how so many take advantage of headlines regarding crime for an obsolete 'tough on crime' political, media, and budgetary gain, but when a public murder happens that reinforces existing power structures, those same forces rush to exonerate and look the other way," said the congresswoman. "We shouldn't."