As ever more city and state pols strongly condemned an incident where a homeless Black man was killed by being placed in a chokehold by another man on a subway car Monday as vigilantism, Mayor Eric Adams said Thursday he’s going to wait for pending investigations around the case to play out before taking a stance.
“I have been extremely clear that the [Manhattan] District Attorney and the Police Department, they’re doing their investigations and I’m going to respect that,” Adams said during an unrelated press conference in Forest Hills, Queens on Thursday afternoon.
“There are many layers to this. Let the process follow its course,” he added.
After the Monday incident on a Manhattan F Train was first reported Tuesday, the city’s medical examiner ruled Neely died from compression of the neck — a chokehold — and that it was a homicide, amNewYork Metro confirmed. But the medical examiner’s determination isn’t a ruling on intent or culpability in the case, they said, which is being left to the NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office to determine.
The NYPD released a notice Thursday afternoon that it’s actively looking to identify and interview witnesses.
Neely, 30, who performed on the city’s subways as a Michael Jackson impersonator, appeared to be experiencing a mental health episode — according to reports that cited eye-witnesses and a nearly four-minute video of the encounter — when he was roaming the train and screaming at passengers.
Another rider, reportedly a 24-year-old ex-Marine — whose identity has yet to be released, then put Neely in a chokehold and held him on the ground for several minutes with assistance from a couple of other passengers until Neely went unconscious.
Neely later died of his injuries, and the man who put him in the chokehold — who is white — was reportedly released by police without being charged with a crime.
A growing chorus of advocates and pols, such as city Comptroller Brad Lander and Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-Queens/Bronx), are calling the man who put Neely in a chokehold a vigilante and say he should be held accountable. Ocasio-Cortez, in a Wednesday night Tweet, said Neely was “murdered” and slammed the muted response from the mayor and others suggesting they see Neely as being of a social status “too low to care about.”
A group of protesters who took over the northbound platform at Manhattan’s Broadway-Lafayette Street station Wednesday night demanded justice for Neely — who they saw as being failed by the city’s social safety net — as they clashed with cops.
In a separate protest outside the Manhattan DA’s office on Thursday, Rashid Littlejohn, who works with the New Negro Republic under his organization the Green Campaign, said he thinks Adams should make it clear that in cases such as Neely’s, no one should lose their life.
“I think life is valuable period,” Littlejohn said. “And if you’re the mayor of our city, and somebody takes it upon themselves to do something and someone’s life is lost, they should not be able to walk out [of] a precinct. It should be a thorough conversation, a thorough investigation, before that person is led outside.”
A spokesperson for the Manhattan DA declined to say if and when the office may be pursuing charges into the man who placed Neely in a chokehold, but said the matter is being thoroughly investigated.
“As part of our rigorous ongoing investigation, we will review the medical examiner’s report, assess all available video and photo footage, identify and interview as many witnesses as possible, and obtain additional medical records,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We will provide an update when there is additional public information to share.”
‘Each situation is different’
Adams made his remarks Thursday after taking heat for a Wednesday night statement in which he noted any loss of life is “tragic” but that he would “refrain from commenting further” because there are still too many unknowns in the case. He’s also being criticized for separate comments he made during a Wednesday night CNN interview where he appeared to suggest the man who placed Neely in a chokehold may have been trying to help him, while repeating he was withholding judgment until more information comes to light.
“Each situation is different … We have so many cases where passengers assist other riders,” he said. “And we don’t know exactly what happened here. The investigation is thorough and each situation is different. I was a former transit police officer and I responded to many jobs where you had a passenger assisting someone. And so we cannot just blatantly say what a passenger should or should not do in a situation like that.”
In the same interview, Adams also criticized Lander for a Tuesday Tweet that read, “NYC is not Gotham. We must not become a city where a mentally ill human being can be choked to death by a vigilante without consequence. Or where the killer is justified & cheered.”
The mayor said he didn’t think it was “very responsible” of Lander to label the man who placed Neely in a chokehold a vigilante at this point.
In answering a reporter’s question on the flak he’s gotten over his response to the incident, Adams claimed that while taking the subway back from a “Day of Prayer” event in Brooklyn earlier Thursday, riders told him they approved of his approach thus far.
“I took the train today from the Day of Prayer service and the passengers that stopped on the train and spoke with me [said] ‘mayor thank you for allowing the process to take its way,’” Adams told reporters.
But Adams is standing more and more alone as one of the only prominent city and state officials that hasn’t taken a strong stance on the case at this point. Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and city Public Advocate Jumaane Williams also put out strong statements calling for Neely’s killer to face consequences — with Williams saying “charges must be immediately brought against his killer.”
On Wednesday night, Governor Kathy Hochul appeared to blame Neely’s death entirely on his own mental health issues.
But, not long before Adams spoke on Thursday, Hochul changed her tune, making slightly stronger remarks following an unrelated press conference in Manhattan.
“I’m really pleased that the district attorney is looking into this matter,” Hochul said. “As I said, there had to be consequences. His family deserves justice.”
But the governor stopped short of labeling the incident vigilantism.
“I’m not sure by the meaning vigilante,” she said. “This was an individual who took the situation into his own hands and in that sense it would fit that description. But I don’t care about labeling it.”