In public discourse, there are two forms of narrative. The standard narrative is a detailed account of an incident; the viewpoint narrative presents a situation in a way that promotes a political position.
The public first learned that a mentally ill homeless black man named Jordan Neely died on a New York subway train after Daniel Penny, a white military veteran, restrained him through the account of Juan Alberto Vázquez, who witnessed the incident.
Vázquez told police that after Neely boarded the subway train, Neely started yelling that he didn’t have food or water and didn’t care about going to jail. Needly didn’t ask anyone for anything but acted in a violent manner, at one point slamming his jacket. The people around Neely were scared and moved away from him as Neely kept yelling.
Then Penny came up behind Neely, grabbed him by the neck, and forced Neely to the floor.
Thirty seconds later, the train reached a stop, and passengers rushed off the train. Vázquez told the conductor to stop the train, while Penny told bystanders to call the police. By this time, two other men had assisted Penny, while Vázquez began to record the incident.
The recording of Neely in a chokehold is nearly four minutes long.
After two minutes, a man entered the train and told Penny, “If you suffocate him, that’s it. You don’t want to catch a murder charge.” Penny released the choke hold, but Neely was unconscious. Neely died in the hospital from what the medical examiner determined to be compression of the neck.
Neely’s death was ruled a homicide; Penny wasn’t charged, and protesters took to the streets of New York.
We all know that homicide refers to any killing of one person by another, and it does not always imply a criminal act. According to Vázquez’s account, Penny did not intend to murder Neely, but it’s clear Penny caused Neely’s death.
Vázquez’s standard narrative should have sparked serious public debate as to whether Penny should be charged with voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, whether Penny was justified in protecting passengers from harm, and whether self-defense negates manslaughter.