The recent death of a New York homeless person, Jordan Neely, is not merely a reflection of two individuals caught in a Shakespearian tragedy - one, the victim, Mr. Neely and the other, Daniel Penny, the perpetrator of the crime.
Rather, this incident is a microcosmic reflection of many White Americans’ view of Black lives.
The “Black Lives Matter” slogan was prompted by the realization that George Floyd’s horrific death by a White policeman was a stark representation of many Americans’ subconscious lack of value for the life of a Black American.
The solution to this subliminal reality will not be defined by the conviction of the perpetrator, Mr. Penny. Daniel Penny’s 15-minute strangle hold suffocation of Jordan Neely was a clear and concise example that revealed the death of Mr. Neely was never even considered in the mind of Mr. Penny, or few, if any of the White observers on the scene.
This incident reinforces the long-held belief (since slavery) that a Black person’s life is immaterial or three-fifths, at best, the value of White lives when compared with the safety of White lives.
As a Marine, I was trained to execute what was called a naked strangle hold on an opponent. We were also fully advised that beyond two and a half to three minutes, a successfully sustained strangle hold would result in the death of the individual being strangled, usually administered against the enemy.
Marine Corp training is complete, thorough and explicit. There are no exceptions or excuses for not understanding the consequences of behavior. In the Marine Corp, the consequences of a mistake are punishment that is brutal and severe. I distinctly recall the practice of mass punishment by drill instructors – that is, if one Marine in a platoon made a mistake, the entire platoon was punished. This ensured the unlikelihood of any Marine forgetting his or her training.
It therefore goes without saying that, if Daniel Penny learned the naked strangle hold in the Marine Corp, he also learned the consequences would be death if maintained longer than two and half to three minutes.
While the experience of viewing a homeless Black person acting strangely can be traumatic for most White Americans, it is no reason to suspend common sense behavior. Daniel Penny suspended the use of his knowledge that his hold on Jordan Neely would kill him. He was taught this fact emphatically and as effectively as he was taught to execute a naked strangle hold.
It is possible, but highly implausible, that Mr. Penny did not realize that Mr. Neely could very well die. But, Mr. Penny is unable to plead ignorance – ignorance of the law is no excuse. However, he could plead a subliminal lack of value and respect for the life of a Black person. Therefore, he felt no compunction to release Mr. Neely after three or four minutes.
While I loathe any references to hypothetical, I would venture to say, had Jordan Neely been a blonde-headed White homeless person, Daniel Penny most certainly would have thought about releasing him before he expired. Mr. Penny fully realized that there are consequences to the death of a White man.
The larger implication here is that Daniel Penny is the culprit of Jordan Neely’s death. But the real killer is yet at large – a racist and subliminal mentality.
Chuck Richardson is a decorated Marine veteran with two purple hearts and a Vietnamese cross of gallantry.