Jordan Neely’s Death Highlights A History Of Disregard For Black Life

Jordan Neely’s Death Highlights A History Of Disregard For Black Life

The death of Jordan Neely is shedding light on the cycles of disregard for Black life that replay repeatedly.

On May 1, the 30-year-old houseless man with a history of mental illness was pronounced dead after he was put in a fatal chokehold by a white former Marine on a New York subway. An autopsy ruled Neely’s death a homicide days later.

The systemic disregard for Black lives in America was on full display when a judge authorized Daniel Penny’s release on $100,000 bond nearly two weeks after the tragic incident, CBS News reported. The delay in prosecution has since sparked protests to hold Penny accountable as he faces a second-degree manslaughter charge. However, some demonstrators called his actions an example of “white vigilantism” against Black Americans.

Even when a system is arguably in place to vindicate the unjust loss of life, the prevailing conversation spotlights just how much Black people still remain unprotected.

Here is a brief history of assaults against Black people that had delayed prosecution.

Emmett Till

Emmett Till
Emmett Till is shown lying on his bed. (Getty Images)

Emmett Till, a young Black boy in Mississippi, was brutally murdered in 1955 following accusations that he whistled and made sexual advances toward a white woman named Carolyn Bryant in a grocery store.

The two white men accused of his murder were later found “not guilty” by an all-white, all-male jury. Four months after the trial, which took place in a segregated courtroom, the two men admitted to kidnapping and murdering Till in an interview with Look magazine, per PBS. However, the previous acquittal blocked them from being tried again. No one served time.

Six decades later, Bryant admitted that she had lied. She never faced any legal consequences for her accusations against Till and continued evading prosecution until her death. In February, a family member of Till filed a lawsuit demanding the Leflore County (MS) sheriff present a warrant for Donham’s arrest for her role in the teen’s murder. However, a Mississippi grand jury declined to indict Donham on any charges in 2007.

The FBI reopened an investigation into his murder three years ago.

Yusef Hawkins

On Aug. 23, 1989, 16-year-old Yusef Hawkins and some friends went to Bensonhurst to purchase a used car when a group of white men attacked him with baseball bats because they thought he was dating a white girl in the neighborhood. He was also shot in the chest, causing his death.

Eight youths faced charges related to the killing, but the attention focused on Joseph Fama, 18, and Keith Mondello, 19, who were said to have been the leaders of the mob. Fama was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison with a second-degree murder charge, the New York Times reported. Mondello, on the other hand, was acquitted of murder but sentenced to 5⅓ to 16 years in prison for rioting, unlawful imprisonment, menacing, discrimination, and criminal possession of a weapon.

All the other men were acquitted of murder charges. Hawkins would later have a street renamed after him.

The Trial of Bernhard Goetz

Before Daniel Penny, almost four decades ago in 1984, Bernhard Goetz opened fire on four unarmed Black teenagers because one asked him for five dollars, and Goetz thought he would get mugged. Bullets hit Troy Canty directly in the chest, pierced Barry Allen in the back, through the arm of James Ramseur, and severed Darrell Cabey’s spinal cord at point-blank range.

In 1987, Goetz was acquitted of attempted murder but fined $5,000 and sentenced to six months for illegal weapons possession. The judge also ordered him to do 200 hours of community service and that he seek psychiatric help. On appeal, his sentence was changed to one year, with no probation. He served eight months.

In 1996, a New York jury awarded Cabey $43 million in a civil suit he had brought against Goetz for his injuries.

Latasha Harlins

The sad but familiar story embodying the disregard for Black life was that of Latasha Harlins. This murder set off unrest in the city of Los Angeles. In 1991, the 15-year-old Black girl from South Central walked into Empire Liquor Market and Deli, grabbed a $1.79 bottle of orange juice, and put it in her backpack. A Korean-born merchant, Soon Ja Du, accused her of stealing it. Latasha had $2 in her hand. Du proceeded to grab Latasha’s sweater. Then Latasha punched Du in the face and walked for the door. Du picked up a handgun and fired a shot into the back of Latasha’s head.

Police later confirmed that there was “no attempt at shoplifting.” A jury found Du guilty of voluntary manslaughter, but instead of serving a maximum of 16 years in prison, Judge Joyce A. Karlin gave Du probation.

Ahmaud Arbery

Ahmaud Arbery
(Image; Twitter)

The killing of Ahmaud Arbery in February 2020 went largely unnoticed outside the South Georgia community until a video surfaced three months later. Shocking footage showed father and son Greg and Travis McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan chasing Arbery down in their pickup trucks before Travis McMichael fatally shot him with a shotgun. The three men would claim they thought Arbery was robbing a nearby property.

In late January 2022, U.S. attorneys submitted a notice of two plea agreements for Gregory and his son Travis to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District in Georgia. A judge rejected the offer, but Arbery’s family chastised the Department of Justice for offering a deal that would allow the killers to spend time in federal prison and not state prison.

By February, the men were facing life in prison. A Georgia-based federal jury later found them guilty of all the federal charges they faced, including violating Arbery’s civil rights and attempted kidnapping. The McMichaels were charged with using a firearm to commit a crime.

The conviction came one day before the second anniversary of Arbery’s February 2020 murder.

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

A six-woman jury in Florida justified the fatal Feb. 26, 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as self-defense. Five of the women were white, and one was a minority.

On March 12, 2012, George Zimmerman’s recount of the events could not be discredited at the time, according to Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee, CNN News reported. So he did not face any charges. A day later, homicide detective Christopher Serino recommended Zimmerman face manslaughter charges because the gunslinger “failed to identify” himself as a neighborhood watch member in two separate instances that night. In addition, Serino reported that Zimmerman’s head injuries were “marginally consistent with a life-threatening episode, as described by him, during which neither a deadly weapon nor deadly force was deployed by Trayvon Martin,” per the news outlet.

However, 28-year-old neighborhood watch captain Zimmerman, who pled guilty in the case and argued that he shot Martin out of self-defense, was acquitted of second-degree murder by a Florida judge in July 2013. The acquittal was met with strong demonstrations and a hashtag that would become a rallying cry for the largest social movement in U.S. history regarding Black life: #BlackLivesMatter.

Following this ruling, Martin’s family turned to the federal government for a separate investigation, hoping that Zimmerman would be held responsible for his actions. But the Justice Department said they did not find enough evidence to bring civil rights charges against Zimmerman.