Why Are You All So Eager to Kill?

·5 min read

Two days ago, a man named Jordan Neely boarded a northbound F train in New York City. He yelled that he was hungry, thirsty, and tired. Half an hour later, I watched across a taped-off platform as EMTs appeared to be giving him chest compressions in that same train car. Fifteen or so cops stood around, a stretcher lay unused off to the side — it was clear, from the body language, those chest compressions were a formality. Jordan Neely was dead.

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Neely had shouted, had asked for help, but he hadn’t hurt anyone. The Independent quotes a social media post from Juan Alberto Vazquez, a journalist who happened to be on the train. The post, translated, said, “The disturbed man did not seem to want to attack anyone.” Neely was one of so many people on the New York subways, a person with nowhere else to go and no one else to ask for aid. He was reportedly held in a chokehold for fifteen minutes.

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Vasquez also posted video of the choking, which I will not be linking. You don’t need to watch anyone die today. There’s enough of a risk of that out in the world, it seems — so many people, across the country, are obsessed with murder. Why are they all so eager to kill?

The northbound orange line platform of Broadway-Lafayette street, with an F train waiting to leave.
The northbound orange line platform of Broadway-Lafayette street, with an F train waiting to leave.

I’ll freely admit, eyewitnesses claim Neely was acting aggressively. But what does aggression mean? Plenty of people will see a homeless man yelling, and take that alone as aggressive action. Is that enough for a death sentence? Should yelling be a capital offense, all depending on who’s doing it? Self-defense, obviously, I understand, but we’ve been given no indication Neely attacked anyone. Self-offense, at a perceived threat, is a very different matter.

Neely was neither the first nor last mentally ill homeless person to board a train, and neither the first nor last to beg or panhandle while riding. Many days, on my commute, I’ll share a car with someone holding a sign or cup of change, asking for assistance. Many will dance, sing, recite poetry. Some even yell. Most New Yorkers, when confronted with the unthinkable assault of loud words, will have the same response: Absolutely nothing. Sometimes they’ll change cars at the next stop, something a local line (like the F where Neely died) makes easy.

But Neely also is neither the first nor last person killed wantonly — or barely surviving — in the past few weeks. Kaylin Gillis was shot for pulling into the wrong driveway in upstate New York just two weeks ago. Sixteen-year-old Ralph Yarl rang a doorbell, and was shot in the head through the door before he could say a word. Two Texas cheerleaders got into the wrong car, apologized, and were shot at. Also in Texas, a meteorologist warned local parents not to let their six-year-olds ring his doorbell, lest he kill them for the slight. The six-year-old that prompted the post was looking for her lost cat.

Photo:  Gary Hershorn (Getty Images)
Photo: Gary Hershorn (Getty Images)

You might be expecting some anti-gun statement here, but that’s not what this article is about. I grew up around guns, I learned how to treat them safely and carefully, how to respect them as the tools they are. They’re a debate for another time, another website, and another news story. No gun law in the world would’ve stopped a subway passenger from choking Jordan Neely.

No, this is about paranoia. About people who are convinced that someone is coming for them, someone means to hurt them. People are on edge now in a way I’ve never known in my life, despite all evidence pointing towards violent crimes being at their lowest rate since before I was born. The world is safer, but no one feels safe.

For some folks, I truly understand it. Hate crimes are up, with standouts in anti-Black, antisemitic, and transphobic violence. But these are rarely the people we see sheltered behind their front doors when the bell rings, death-gripping a weapon like they’re John Wick. Those are often the same people complain that kids never play outside any more, that suburban streets are no longer home to stickball games or roller hockey matches—yet, when faced with the idea of a child they don’t know setting foot on their property, they start gearing up for war.

The world is, most likely, not out to get you specifically. People are generally good, they generally want to help each other out, yet so many folks preemptively assume the worst in others. Why do you do this? Why are so many of you so quick to resort to violence? Why are you all so eager to kill?

Plenty of people point the finger at cable news, which spams 24 hour stories of largely invented horror to boost ratings. Others blame online radicalization, where geographically widespread communities can quickly and easily form around their hate for others. Both work on othering, dehumanizing people to sow division and create an insular in-group.

I’m a simple car blogger, I don’t know the solution to this. I don’t know how we stop the othering, stop people from instantly resorting to violence at the merest slight. I do know, though, that we need to. This world we all find ourselves in, this atmosphere of paranoia and hate, isn’t going to end well for any of us.

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