Disability Community Expresses Outrage at the Murder of Jordan Neely

May 11, by Harvey Rosenthal, Luke Sikinyi, Ruth Lowenkron, and the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (Reposted from NYAPRS ENews)

Calls on the City and the State to Appropriately Serve New Yorkers Living with Mental Health Conditions

Jordan Neely’s heartbreaking, haunting, and cruel murder was a direct result of our City’s and our State’s systemic failures to provide a comprehensive continuum of services and support with appropriate follow up and accountability.

There is ample evidence that Mr. Neely had contact with a broad array of shelters, clinics, hospitals, street outreach teams, case management programs, and criminal justice and social service organizations. Our systems had more than a decade to meaningfully engage Mr. Neely and to provide him with sustained follow-up services and supports. Yet, at the time of his death, he had been identified by the City as one of the “top 50” homeless individuals most urgently in need of assistance and treatment.

We often speak of our goal to provide a “no wrong door” system of mental health access. Mr. Neely, in fact, entered our system through several doors, but we failed him each time. We are too quick to label people as “hard to serve” and “non-compliant,” rather than acknowledge our system’s inability to effectively engage and support people in profound need with appropriate, effective, and voluntary measures.

On Monday afternoon, Mr. Neely was riding the subway, complaining of hunger and thirst, saying that he was tired — that he didn’t care if he went to prison and that “it doesn’t even matter if I died.”

Mr. Neely’s desperate sense of despair may have been disturbing or even frightening to some, but it cannot be used to justify being choked to death on the floor of a City subway car. Tragically, he met all four of the qualifications to be routinely and unjustifiably considered to be dangerous: he was a Black, male, homeless individual living with major mental health challenges.

We have to answer the question posed on social media – does anyone think there is a Black man alive in this country who could walk up to a white person, in public, choke him to death in full view of other passengers and have it captured on video, and then just walk away after a brief chat with the police?

We must take action to respond to mental health crises with a public health rather than a criminalizing response that only drives people away and that fails to recognize that people with major mental health and trauma-related challenges are typically 11 times more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence and no more likely to be violent than those who do not have such challenges.

This is also the time to assign accountability to City and State leaders whose policies promote a coercive approach that drives away people in need of what are currently vastly underfunded, overwhelmed and understaffed community services, and that turn the public against the disability community.

What we need is a system that succeeds in engaging people like Jordan Neely, that remains involved, and that identifies an agency to take the primary role in coordinating each individual’s services and resources to promote their safety and recovery. What we must not tolerate are policies such as those recently introduced by Mayor Eric Adams that promote detention by police of individuals who are merely perceived to have a mental health diagnosis, even when they do not present a danger to themselves or others.

We owe it to the memory of Jordan Neely to do all we possibly can to support people in similar circumstances, to show that it indeed matters if they live or die.

  • Advocates for Justice
  • Association for Community Living, Inc
  • Baltic Street AEH, Inc
  • Bronx Independent Living Services
  • Cardozo Bet Tzedek Legal Services
  • Coalition for Behavioral Health
  • Center for Disability Rights
  • Community Access
  • Daniels Law Coalition
  • 504 Democratic Club
  • Families Together in New York State
  • Finger Lakes Independence Center
  • Fountain House
  • Hands Across Long Island
  • Harlem Independent Living Center
  • Independent Living, Inc
  • Mental Health Association of Nassau County
  • Mental Health Association of New York State
  • Mental Health Empowerment Project
  • Mobilization for Justice
  • New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services
  • New York Association on Independent Living
  • New York City Justice Peer Initiative
  • New York Lawyers for the Public Interest
  • New York State Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare
  • Northern Regional Center for Independent Living
  • Police Reform Organizing Project
  • Queens Defenders
  • Regional Center for Independent Living
  • Resource Center for Accessible Living
  • Restoration Society, Inc
  • Seat At The Table Campaign
  • Southern Tier Independence Center
  • Staten Island Center for Independent Living
  • Supportive Housing Network of New York
  • Taconic Resources for Independence, Inc
  • Treatment Not Jail Coalition
  • Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project

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