All of the evidence on the public record about the death of Jordan Neely – who was African-American – at the hands of Marine Corps veteran Daniel Penny – who is white – seems to point to a straightforward case of a civic-minded citizen seeking to subdue a deranged, out-of-control vagrant who was actively terrorizing riders on a subway train. To be sure, video footage shows that Mr. Penny put Mr. Neely in a headlock and held him until the train reached the next station, at which point the police took over the situation; but it doesn’t appear that there was any excessive aggressiveness nor intentional attempt to choke Neely to death in the episode, even though that was unfortunately the ultimate outcome.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg summarily charged Penny with manslaughter – no submission to a grand jury involved. As reported by The New York Times, Mr. Bragg’s office said in a statement at Penny’s arraignment that the arrest came after many witness interviews, a review of photos, and discussions with the medical examiner’s office (which ruled Mr. Neely’s death was a homicide because he died due to “compression of neck (chokehold)”). Prosecutors also said that Penny did not release Neely after the latter stopped trying to free himself.
We are not suggesting that there may be relevant facts which, if known, would paint an entirely different picture of what happened. We are perturbed, however, by the fact that Bragg only ordered the arrest after a number of activist organizations and individuals staged protests over his failure to do so earlier. Additionally, Bragg has said that when making prosecutorial decisions he would always keep in mind the notion of the historical and modern failure for Black Americans to a fair shake in the criminal justice system, something which he believes has to be redressed going forward.
Small wonder that there is much criticism of the decision to charge Penny. If it looks, walks, and talks like a selective prosecution, maybe it is one.