It’s been more than two weeks since Jordan Neely was strangled to death on a subway in New York, and I’m still hesitant to write about it.

I may be the only one.

One of the many downsides of our content creation-driven news (and I say this as a content creator) is that, seemingly, everyone feels instantly entitled to an opinion about everything. Very rarely is there a cooling-off period. Very rarely do we allow ourselves the time to collect all relevant facts and form semi-sensible convictions before passing judgment. Often, this happens before all the facts are even available.

Within hours of a murder or shooting or some other tragedy, both sides have already made up their minds that the other is squarely responsible. Funny how it works like that.

Funny how it’s always the other side’s fault.

To make matters worse, we more than just make up our minds privately. No, nothing is private these days. Instead, we elevate our hasty judgments to astronomic levels of importance and expect everyone else to agree.

Suddenly, uniformity on this one topic that came up overnight—this one issue that precisely no one knew about 24 hours ago—is the single most important litmus test for party fealty. It’s almost as if it leaped instantly from the Twitter comments section into official party platforms.

It’s almost as if we’ve all had a lot of time to think about it.

And that’s precisely the problem: we haven’t.

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In the case of Jordan Neely, the entire internet declared itself a jury, and lo and behold, a verdict was reached at once! The complicated issue was settled.

For those who don’t know, Neely, a homeless black man, was riding the F train in New York City on May 1, screaming erratically at passengers, when Daniel Penny allegedly “approached Mr. Neely from behind and placed him in a chokehold, taking him down to the ground.”

Neely was soon declared dead.

The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide caused by depression of the neck. Penny—who had been assisted in restraining Neely by another man—was charged with second-degree manslaughter.

So far, the facts of the story are only that (1), a man lost his life and (2), another faces 15 years in prison. However you look at it, it’s tragic.

But why let a perfectly good tragedy go to waste, right?

Not surprisingly, due simply to the color of the two men’s skin, the left quickly divined an opportunity to incite a race war. Turning Neely into an overnight hero, they fawned over him incessantly.

The New York Times, for example, devoted extensive coverage to his “glittery socks” and “happy” career as a street performer. They only briefly mentioned the fact that “he was struggling.” For all they care, he was a sweet, radiant Michael Jackson impersonator whose buoyant life will be sorely missed.

But what exactly does “he was struggling” mean?

Well, apparently, it means that, in the past 10 years, Neely has been arrested over 40 times. It means that he once punched a 67-year-old female in the face.

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We should also note that the “beloved Michael Jackson impersonator” was shouting “I don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison” and “I’m ready to die” on the F Train before he was restrained.

This is the man who the left has made into a hero.

This is the man who now joins the ranks of Saint George Floyd and other legends of today’s left.

Frankly, he was a menace to society. And no criminal should be posthumously heroized simply by virtue of dying an untimely death.  

But, because the left found its protagonist, the right also needed one. And because politics is so often reactionary, we settled for Daniel Penny.

Since he killed Neely, Penny has also been exalted on the right as some kind of a hero. We almost seem to delight in eulogizing him in the most shocking, most provocative headlines.

For instance: “Michael Jackson Would Have Thanked Daniel Penny For His Service,” “Daniel Penny Deserves A Medal, Not Jail Time,” “Daniel Penny Is A Real-Life Superhero,” “Japanese Anime Series ‘Demon Slayer’ Celebrates Masculinity Like Daniel Penny’s,” and more, all on one right-wing site.

I found only one article that contained even the faintest hint of sorrow about the fact that Neely was killed. To be honest, it only made things worse. “It sucks that the guy died,” wrote Eddie Scarry (who happens to be one of my least favorite conservative writers). The insulting nod was thrown in at the end of an article that almost seemed to relish in Neely’s death.

Really? Sure, the man was anything but the hero the left is making him out to be. But are we really so calloused as to get giddy about his killer simply to rub it in their face?

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Now, I’ll admit, there’s one framing of Penny as a hero that I am sympathetic to. (It certainly makes more sense than saying that Neely was a hero.) The argument goes that Penny actually put himself in danger in order to protect fellow passengers. And let’s be honest. Do we really think a 24-year-old man would risk everything he’s going through now simply for spite toward some stranger? Does it not make more sense that he acted, as his lawyer suggested, “to save the people on that train”?

That being said, there are still a lot of unknowns about the case that conservatives seem unwilling to grapple with. For example, there is no evidence that Neely did anything that warranted being put in a chokehold for 15 minutes. He was not physically threatening or attacking anyone. He might have been an erratic nuisance, but that does not justify being held in a chokehold. In fact, one passenger can be heard warning Penny that his grip was too strong.

“You don’t want to catch a murder charge,” he added.

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If anything, shouldn’t we at least wait until more details about the incident surface before we crown the killer? Do we really want to give him millions of dollars? If so, we should ask ourselves why. His only claim to fame is killing a man. Sure, it might have been heroic, or it might not have been. We just don’t know.

And that, more than anything, is my point: America is far too quick to take sides. With very little nuance whatsoever, one party has exalted a repeat criminal and the other has exalted an accused killer. And both came to those conclusions before the latter’s name was even known.

It makes me wonder: if we’re that quick to pass (politically expedient) verdicts, is it not possible that we got something wrong?

The truth ought to matter. Facts and nuance ought to matter. Especially when it involves a man killed. Especially if we’re going to make our spur-of-the-moment opinions sacrosanct party politics.

I’m not saying that we must forever be indecisive about Jordan Neely’s death. But to rush to make either man a hero (before concrete evidence is available) is, in my opinion, foolish.

Not that it matters much at this point, though. For good or ill, it seems all of America has already made up its mind.

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance. 

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