Opinion | The Killing on the Subway: Outrage, Fear, Empathy

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To the Editor:

Re “A Preventable Tragedy on New York’s Subway,” by David French (column, May 15):

I like the point Mr. French made that Jordan Neely, while being the “principal victim” on the subway, wasn’t the only one the city failed.

Mr. Neely, like so many others with serious mental health issues, “should not have been in that subway car.” I feel lucky to have escaped from the subway unscathed on several occasions.

A week or so before the Neely incident, I entered an F train and sat down. A man, whom I could smell before I saw him, sat down very close to me and started screaming in a loud voice, raising his hands and threatening people.

I was terrified, got up after a few minutes, and waited by the door until it opened at the next station and I could run out and into the next car. A group of people followed me. We held our breath that he wouldn’t come after us.

We were lucky that time. My concern is that the next time — and there will be a next time — someone starts acting irrationally and threatening people, a fear of being accused of a crime will stop a passenger from trying to subdue the person and possibly save lives.

Linda Lerner

To the Editor:

David French cites reports from women who have been “groped, flashed, or masturbated at” on the subway. Many other instances of disturbances or crimes inside subway cars have been reported in The Times. It’s nice to see more police officers on the platforms, but where I almost never see a police officer is actually on a subway train, patrolling the cars.

It is precisely in the cars that mentally disturbed people abound, and where it is difficult at any given moment to decide how much of a threat any one of them is to my safety. So let’s get police on the trains.

Jane O’Shaughnessy
New York

To the Editor:

I am sick of articles suggesting that Daniel Penny had any reason whatsoever to kill Jordan Neely.

Being yelled at is no justification for killing someone. There is such a thing as proportionality.

David French asks, “Should passengers stand by when, say, an angry man yanks the hair of a woman next to him?” Of course not! But we shouldn’t kill him, either! We should do what is necessary to keep the person from harming someone else, call the police and leave it at that.

It appears that Mr. Neely assaulted no one. Meanwhile, the very fact that Mr. Penny was able to kill him shows that he was strong enough to simply subdue him. That was all that was required (if, indeed, anything was).

We have a responsibility to act within reason. Mr. Penny did not.

Wesley Clark

To the Editor:

While I deplore the accidental killing of what was a clearly mentally disturbed man on a subway train, I wonder what the reaction would have been had Jordan Neely become violent and ended up wounding or killing an innocent passenger? We have seen that play out more than once.

The man who put him in a chokehold was probably trying to prevent that from happening. We can’t expect each subway car to contain someone trained in determining which mentally disturbed person behaving in a threatening manner is dangerous or not.

Had the scenario played out differently, we’d be reading comments about the failure of any of the passengers to step up and try to prevent a clearly disturbed person from harming others!

It is sad that Mr. Neely had to lose his life, but the real villain is the lack of city services and medical attention for homeless people, not the person who tried to prevent harm to subway passengers. I’m sure it was not his intent to kill anyone.

Irene Bernstein-Pechmèze

To the Editor:

As if Jordan Neely’s loss of life at the hands of an overzealous Daniel Penny were not enough, it is appalling to note that apparently no one or not enough people riding that subway car cared enough to stop Mr. Penny from completing his despicable act. Did the other riders just look on, or did they just look the other way?

Roberto Richheimer
Mexico City

To the Editor:

Re “On the Right, Help for Man Charged in Chokehold Death” (news article, May 15):

As an elderly lifelong Democrat, I resent the implication that only those on the right support Daniel Penny. Mr. Penny protected people like me from harassment and assault from people like Jordan Neely.

My husband and I seldom go into New York City anymore because of people like Mr. Neely. They make riding the subway a fearful experience for elderly people like us who cannot afford taxis or Ubers.

Gail G. Abrams
Little Silver, N.J.

To the Editor:

Does anyone still remember the time when the thousands of psychotic, hallucinating people unable to care for themselves were patients in New York State’s vast state hospital system instead of on the streets? People who were a danger to themselves and others were generally well cared for, fed, housed and medicated when appropriate, with antipsychotic drugs rather than street drugs.

No one would suggest that the state hospital system was without flaws, but society and the mentally ill certainly seemed much better off before this system was dismantled and not replaced.

George Sabel
Westwood, N.J.

To the Editor:

I am a retired psychiatrist who spent the better part of three decades caring for inpatients on a psychiatric unit. Some of the patients were agitated and aggressive. The efforts to calm a patient included trying to talk him down. If that didn’t work and if the patient remained dangerous, a staff member might restrain the person, always having enough personnel to subdue them while minimizing risk of harm to all parties (of course in the hospital, medications might be used as well).

If the person had no weapons, even though threatening people, no potentially dangerous methods were warranted.

In the recent incident on the subway, several people could have been recruited to help with restraining the person, thereby reducing risk of injury. Clearly lethal means were not justified.

Edwin Tobes
Ann Arbor, Mich.

To the Editor:

I cannot judge Daniel Penny’s intention, or what darker forces may have taken over his interaction with Jordan Neely, but I do believe that he represents something in all of us in those moments of confrontation with those who are mentally ill.

Bizarre behavior can trip a knee-jerk reaction to something so deeply fearful that our lizard brain sees only otherness and danger.

Whatever the ultimate legal decision, societally and personally we have a long way to go in dealing with the troubled Jordan Neelys and the protective or reactive response of the Daniel Pennys in each of us.

David Pasinski
Fayetteville, N.Y.

The Democrats as a Working-Class Party

To the Editor:

Re “Biden Promotes Quality Careers Minus a Degree” (front page, May 16):

Not all should go to college, or should need to, to make a good living. By emphasizing this point, President Biden has taken an important step toward re-establishing the Democratic Party as America’s working-class party.

But this and other economic initiatives may not be enough to win back blue-collar workers. Concerns about the weakening of traditional moral values, violent crime and high levels of undocumented migrants might still keep red states red.

To be a true labor party, the Democrats must position themselves just left of center by representing and addressing the values and concerns of the majority of Americans.

John Miraglia
Old Bridge, N.J.

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