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Oppressed New Yorkers Have a Right to Self-Defense

Newsweek – This is a wonderful opportunity to turn things around, and we’re glad to give it to you,” New York County (Manhattan) Assistant District Attorney Mary Weisgerber naively told the late Jordan Neely in court on February 9, 2023. On that date, Neely, a 30-year-old homeless man suffering from severe mental illness and reported drug abuse, learned that he would not be sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to his brutal November 2021 assault of a 67-year-old woman on a Lower East Side street. Neely had punched the woman so hard that he inflicted severe facial damage, including a broken nose. Instead, despite more than 40 prior arrests, including at least three for assault, he was ordered to spend 15 months in a public mental health facility, take prescribed medication, and avoid use of narcotics.

Neely agreed with the presiding judge, Ellen N. Biben, that his “goal” was to make it through this non-punitive program. Just 13 days later, however, he fled the facility, causing Judge Biben to issue an arrest warrant. Over the subsequent weeks, New York City outreach officials and police officers publicly encountered Neely three times but did not return him to any form of custody. On one of these occasions, Neely dropped his pants and urinated in front of them.

On the afternoon of May 1, while riding the subway through a fashionable part of Lower Manhattan, Neely informed his fellow passengers that he would kill any of them, throw them out of the subway car, and do so without regard for his own life. According to witnesses, a decorated 24-year-old former U.S. Marine Corps sergeant called Daniel J. Penny restrained Neely in a chokehold, a technique regularly taught in Marine Corps basic training, until law enforcement arrived. Neely resisted so strongly that two other passengers had to assist Penny in detaining Neely, while others recorded the altercation. Although Penny has, through legal counsel, disclaimed any intent to cause harm and released Neely upon the arrival of first responders, Neely later died at a hospital.

Under New York criminal law, Neely’s threats appear to have constituted menacing, an arrestable offense for threats of bodily harm made in the absence of physical contact. The intervention of Penny and the other passengers, however tragic the results, appear to be justified under Article 35 of New York State Penal Law, which allows for the use of force if there is a reasonable belief that physical harm to oneself or others may be imminent—if, for example, an individual threatens to kill you, and others, in a public place. Accordingly, the police released Penny after questioning. He has not yet been arrested or charged with any crime.

The crucial factor, however, is that Neely was black and Penny is white. Even before the facts were established, social justice warriors went to work. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) almost immediately took to Twitter to declare Penny’s actions “murder.” Democratic New York Governor Kathy Hochul has called for “consequences,” “justice,” and $1 billion in state budget funds set aside for mental health spending. Manhattan Borough President Mark D. Levine claimed Neely “always made people smile” and moralized that “our broken mental health system failed him,” rather than the dozens of poor choices that resulted in Neely’s 40-plus arrests and ultimate predicament in a fatal chokehold administered by a man he physically threatened. Many others have demanded Penny’s arrest and blamed Neely’s death on “systemic racism,” “lynching,” and “white vigilantism”—progressive straw men that curiously never seem to disappear no matter how many Democrats are elected and re-elected to public office, no matter how much money is cut from urban police budgets, and no matter how leniently blue-state criminal justice systems prosecute crimes committed by people of color (when they prosecute them at all).

On Saturday, protestors shut down a Manhattan subway station, “occupied” its tracks, physically prevented passengers from leaving an arriving train, and assaulted police officers while chanting, “no justice, no peace.” Black Lives Matter demonstrators threatened to “tear the city down” unless Penny is arrested. Two days later, a candlelight vigil for Neely turned violent. New York City leaders who have pleaded for calm and due process, including Mayor Eric Adams—a former police captain who has criticized attempts to label Penny a murderer—have been denounced by the protestors, who marched through the streets of Manhattan chanting, “F*** Eric Adams.”

According to ABC‘s New York City affiliate, New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg is soon expected to call a grand jury to evaluate criminal charges against Penny. This is consistent with Bragg’s decision in July 2022 to charge New York City bodega worker Jose Alba with second-degree murder after he used a knife to defend himself against an assailant in his workplace—a charge Bragg’s office dropped only under significant political pressure. Notably, this is the same Alvin Bragg who just last month brought dubious felony charges against former President Donald J. Trump in a case that a large majority of Americans believe is politically motivated.

Pursuing charges against Penny would also complement Adams’ recent attempts to frustrate a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring New York to permit the carrying of concealed weapons—a policy that has been correlated with reduced crime in other jurisdictions. Those jurisdictions include Florida, where crime rates are at a 50-year low, where hundreds of thousands of crime-weary New Yorkers have relocated in arguably the largest outmigration in their former state’s history, and where recently signed legislation now allows permitless carry of concealed handguns.

From the progressive Left, however, the message is clear: If you are a New Yorker, particularly a white New Yorker, you have virtually no right to self-defense. In addition to Gotham’s many other shortcomings, the only lesson its terrorized denizens can draw from Daniel Penny’s likely fate is that they must consent to their own victimization or feel the full brunt of the law. Racial justice will have it no other way.

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