In what is likely a reflection of the political and racial climate in not only the U.S. but also the world, the online donations to support the family of an unarmed Black man choked to death in public by a white vigilante are a mere fraction of the contributions being made to his killer.
Jordan Neely’s funeral is scheduled to take place on Friday morning, nearly a full three weeks after 24-year-old Daniel Penny placed the 30-year-old in a deadly chokehold on a New York City subway train for a reported 15 minutes.
In that time period, two separate GoFundMe accounts started for and by Neely’s family have garnered slightly less than $150,000. The goal of the GoFundMe account started by Neely’s aunt was $75,000. Both online crowdfunding efforts have said that any contributions will be used to pay for Neely’s funeral, burial and other related expenses.
While $150,000 is nothing to sneeze at, the fund accepting online donations on behalf of Penny, however, stands in stark contrast to the GoFundMe accounts for Neely. Those contributions to defend Penny from second-degree manslaughter charges in the brazen killing over a perceived threat from a man in the throes of a mental health crisis who was crying out for food have been exponentially higher and faster than Neely’s, averaging more than $500,000 daily since it was first shared on Friday — the day Penny was arrested. Conservatives like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have come out in force to support Penny and raise awareness of where donations can be made.
As a result, Penny’s legal defense fund had collected about $2.6 million as of late Tuesday afternoon.
Aside from the glaring discrepancy in donations, the devil is in the details.
Graphic video footage showed Penny employing a sprawling chokehold with the help of two other still-unidentified men. Eyewitnesses have repeatedly said that Penny was being loud and distracting but never posed a violent threat – and certainly not one that merited lethal force. Witnesses said Penny ignored at least two warnings from bystanders that Neely could die if he didn’t ease up on the chokehold, according to reports.
Penny was arrested on the scene but quickly released by the NYPD with no charges. As the news spread, Penny was increasingly described in positive terms as a “hero” and “Good Samaritan” while Neely was vilified as a “crazy” and criminal homeless person whose life was disposable.
It has been in that context that donations have disproportionately been directed to Penny, whose seemingly reluctant arrest by the NYPD came nearly two weeks after the chokehold killing that a medical examiner determined to be a homicide.
The overwhelming message seemingly being sent by the tale of two fundraisers is that people will be monetarily rewarded by society if they rid the world of the so-called dregs of humanity, even if that means taking the law into their own hands – in this case, quite literally.
On the flip side, victims of preventable deaths will be blamed for their own demise instead of mourned as people who suffered and are worthy of sympathy.
The sympathy, so it seems – at least in this case – has instead been extended to a self-appointed judge, jury and executioner whose deadly actions are being applauded and encouraged (in select situations, of course).
The implications behind the disparity are serious and could be seen as enabling similar deadly situations.
As Boston Globe opinion columnist and associate editor Renée Graham put it: “Millions donated to Daniel Penny, who killed Jordan Neely, aren’t just for his defense against manslaughter charges. Every cent is also in defense of white vigilante violence.”
In 2023, the U.S. and largely the globe remains divided along social-economic and racial lines, and that truth is especially exemplified by the glaring disparity in donations for Penny and Neely’s family.
This is America.
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