MetroFocus: May 8, 2023


Tonight, in the look ahead at the major headlines for this week:  protestors in New York City are calling for charges in the death of Jordan Neely, who was Black, after he was put in a chokehold by a Marine veteran Daniel Penny, who is white, on an F train – killing him, according to the medical examiner. The incident, and the lack of charges so far, has ignited a heated debate in New York City about the homelessness crisis, the mental health crisis, subway safety, and the justice system. We’ll also look at the impact on New York of President Joe Biden’s decision to send 1,500 troops to the U.S.- Mexico Border. It comes as the Trump-era immigration policy known as Title 42 is set to expire on Thursday. Joining us to discuss these issues are: Basil Smikle, a Distinguished Lecturer and Director of the Public Policy Program at Hunter College and former Executive Director of the New York State Democratic Party; Joseph Pinion, a GOP political strategist and former Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in New York; and Ellis Henican, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and political analyst.


Tonight on a special 'MetroFocus,' from the subway to the streets, protests and cries for justice over the death of Jordan Neely, the shocking incident that has focused in the city's attention on homelessness, mental illness and subway fears.

President Biden sends troops to the border, and New York scrambles to bring the hundreds of migrants to the Hudson Valley.

MetroFocus begins now.

This is MetroFocus with Rafael Pi Roman, Jack Ford, and Jenna Flanagan.

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edward Wachenheim III, the Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund.

Bernard and Denise Schwartz.

And by Jody and John Arnhold.

The Ambrose Monell Foundation.

Estate of Roland Karlen.

Good evening, and welcome to a special edition of MetroFocus' front-page forecast.

I am Jenna Flanagan.

Protesters in New York City are calling for charges in the death of Jordan Neely, a homeless man and Michael Jackson impersonator put in a chokehold by a Marine veteran, killing him, according to the medical examiner.

The incident and lack of charges so far has ignited a heated debate in New York City about mental illness, the justice system.

We will look at the impact on New York of President Biden's decision to send 1500 U.S.

troops to the Mexican border.

It comes as Title 42 is set to expire on Thursday.

Officials are bracing for a surge of migrant arrivals, and Mayor Eric Adams is facing pushback over a plan to send hundreds of migrants to hotels in the Hudson Valley because the city is running out of shelter space.

For much more, let's introduce tonight's panel of experts.

First, we have Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, New York Times author, and political analyst.

Welcome back.

Ellis: Good to be here.

Jenna: Next I'd like to welcome Basil Michael.

Basil is a lecturer and director of the public policy program at Hunter College. It's great to have you on the show.

Basil: It's great to be here.

Thank you.

Jenna: Last but certainly not least, we would like to welcome back Joseph Pinion, a GOP strategist and former Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. It is great to have you back.

Joseph: Good to be here.

Jenna: Welcome to everyone.

I want to make it clear to the audience that here at MetroFocus, we've chosen not to air the video of Jordan dying on the F train, but with that in mind, Ellis, I want to start with you on what transpired and what led up to this young man's untimely death.

Ellis: Mr. Neely, a well-known character, Michael Jackson impersonator, was on that F train, engaged in what is fair to say aggressive behavior.

There is some dispute about exactly how far it went, but as it proceeded, one of the passengers on the train, a former Marine, got him into a chokehold, held him there for several minutes, at which point Neely dies, and then the debates began.

Jenna: Of course, Basil, there's been a lot of uproar about this, and one of the bigger things people don't seem to understand is, why hasn't the man who put Jordan in this chokehold been arrested?

What is your take or understanding of what transpired with the police department?

Basil: Quite frankly, I don't understand it either.

I would imagine that District Attorney Alvin Bragg is trying to pore through all of the videotape evidence, speak to witnesses.

I don't know what would be taking him so long.

I do sympathize with the protesters that something should have happened.

If this were a police officer who choked Mr. Neely, I think the protests would be stronger and the calls for his arrest would be stronger, and that activity would have been legal.

I am really shocked that he has not been arrested thus far.

Jenna: Of course.

Same question to you, Joseph.

Joseph: Yeah, I'm left with the immense feeling of sadness.

I think there are many issues we have to dive into as it relates to this case.

Number one, the city of New York and society failed Jordan many times before he found himself in the subway car in that chokehold.

Inner reflection.

I count myself to blame as many times walking down the street, whether here in New York or in D.C., people without housing, and wondering, is that person sleeping, or are they dead?

So many times we don't actually stop to intervene, and then we have a case like this where we had somebody acting erratically, and we started thinking, what if it was somebody I love finding themselves in a position they were threatened?

You'd hope someone would intervene, and in that initial act of intervening, could you believe the active intervening was reasonable given the extended period of time it occurred?

It is not as clear-cut of a case as we've seen.

I think it is a reasonable question to ask why an arrest has not been made.

Jenna: Of course.

A lot of people have been discussing the way the city handles mental health and homelessness.

Ellis, there's been criticism for a while about the way the city is addressing the growing health crisis.

Is it a lack of beds?

Is it a lack of funding.

What seems to be the problem?

Ellis: I hear these as scapegoats.

One of the reasons I hate this story so much.

Let's unpack a couple aspects of it.

People acting erratically, threateningly in the subway is a bad thing for New York.

It is not something we should paper over.

In this case, look at Neely.

He is a man with 42 arrests, four of them violent arrests, seemingly having deteriorated significantly in the past months.

That is a problem in the subway.

Riders have a right to a safe and reasonable ride in the trains.

New York doesn't work if the subway is a threatening place.

In this case, he had hundreds of encounters with social workers, outreach personnel, trips to the hospital voluntarily and involuntarily.

While it is true that none of those things solved his mental health problems, it is not true that the city didn't try, that good people were not out there trying to rescue him, so as we try to figure out what the answers are going forward, we need to acknowledge both parts of the equation, the tragedy mental health and the difficulty of trying to figure out what to do about it.

Jenna: I am also wondering, people are asking about this idea of vigilante justice.

Does this signal, this lack of arrest, even though the cops spoke to Jordan who put him in the chokehold, that perhaps this is an option for people if they feel frightened?

Or is that reading too much into it?

Basil: I think there are a number of people who are questioning if the mayor's response should have been stronger.

I was born and raised in this city.

I remember Bernard Goetz.

I remember the way he and his defense team...into the fears the city had of crime, and also the racial component.

That is one area that needs to be injected into this conversation.

This component is important, not just for the conversation around whether or not people feel threatened and who threatens them, but also the sense that some New Yorkers need to take the law into their own hands if the city and Police Department are not doing their job.

We saw that with Bernhard Goetz in 1984.

That is my big concern.

No matter what happened in Mr. Neely's past, if he wasn't acting violently towards those individuals on the train, let's take that incident specifically for what it is.

A person who made individuals feel uncomfortable on the subway was choked to death.

There is a racial component.

There is a concern about vigilante is some.

If the city isn't going to do its part, we need to do our part.

When you consider all else that is happening in this country now, whether it is mass shootings or a young man showing up on the doorstep and being shot as a result of that, we cannot extricate this incident from any other feeling or concern we have about what is happening in the rest of America today.

Jenna: Given everything that Basil said, I am wondering how much pressure for responsibility -- I'm not sure that is the correct word -- that DA Bragg would have to find charges to bring, or is this a case where the law is written in such a way where there isn't anything that could be done?

Joseph: I think from my perspective, a reasonable place to focus on is, was the level of force and length of time the force was applied reasonable given all of the facts?

I don't think it is such a cut and dry case.

When I look at the undeniable reality of race in America, I remember exactly when I watched Elijah killed... shot when playing with a toy gun.

I know how I felt when John Crawford lost his life when we learned about the tragic nature of Trayvon Martin, and in reality, the only thing that was threatening about these people in comparison to other people was the color of their skin.

It was the pigmentation of the skin of Trayvon Martin that made him 'a part of a suspect class.'

As it relates to that case.

This case is perhaps somewhat different, but to Basil's point, it does color the conversation.

I also don't think we want to live in a world where people feel all they can do when something happens in society is to break out their iPhone and film it and hope no one dies.

We have to tread lightly to find that tipping point where people can act in a reasonable way to prevent a crisis from becoming a tragedy.

In this case, it was the actions that caused something going out of control to become something that was deadly, but I think ultimately here, it was a nuanced issue we have to dive deep on and wait for the facts to come out.

Whatever issues I have with Alvin Bragg as D.A., hopefully he is doing that in this case.

Jenna: Given that this is a nuanced issue, it is a nuanced issue so many New Yorkers feel passionate about.

My final question to everyone is, what are your concerns, or do you have concerns about the protests taking place?

We know some protesters have been able to hold subway service by jumping down on the tracks, which I don't think anyone would say is a good idea or even safe, but New York is not a city unfamiliar to mass protests, and it seems like a kind of flashpoint moment that could generate that.

What is your take on what the outcome of this could be?

Ellis: It is a very emotional issue.

It is not a question that lends itself to cartoonish answers.

That is what politics delivers for us.

Alvin Bragg has a responsibility to weigh this in a sympathetic way.

It is obviously a tragedy.

Neely should not have ended up dead, but we have to decide, what is a reasonable response?

How much of it was intentional?

How much of it was just a bad outcome?

They are not fully satisfying, often not black-and-white, often in the racial analogy or the right and wrong analogy, but it ain't easy, and it doesn't always bring out the best in all of us, I think.

Jenna: Basil, your thoughts?

Basil: To the point that Joseph made earlier, one of the concerns I have is the chilling effect of this, when you see somebody being choked out on a subway, what good thinking New Yorker would choose not to step in and stop it in its tracks to say, that is enough?

I am not sure what the entire video shows.

Maybe there were people yelling and trying to intervene, but there seem to be a number of people on the subway car that were watching what was happening, and if they felt threatened up until that point, there was a moment they didn't feel threatened any longer, and it didn't seem like anybody forcefully intervened to say, enough is enough.

That's not my New York.

This chilling effect would keep well thinking individuals from actually intervening in situations where they could stop a tragedy from occurring.

Jenna: Joseph, your final thoughts on this?

Joseph: I have to echo some of those sentiments.

I think our lyrical divisions have led to deeper cultural divisions we already had a, and I think we find ourselves in a situation where people are afraid of their neighbors, where people feel as if they cannot say anything or cannot do anything, and that is the type of environment that leads to people being shot in the wrong driveway, knocking on the wrong door, being choked to death on the subway.

It feels to me we need to do some reflection and take a step back and recognize we need to get some more positiveness in our day to day experiences.

Otherwise, we find ourselves with more tragedies like the one we just witnessed.

Jenna: I do want to turn to our other challenging subject, which is the issue of migrants coming to the country.

We do know the Trump era policy of Title 42 is set to expire this week, so that could mean a surge of migrants coming to the border.

We know President Biden has said he is going to send troops, but a significant number of people are expected to arrive in New York City.

I am going to go back to you, Joseph, and from a political standpoint, because this is pretty much a presidential election cycle, what could be the possible negative outcomes or positive outcomes from the president's decision to send troops to the border?

Who could this look good too?

Who could look at this sketchy?

Ellis: I don't know what to make of it.

We have a lack of a doctrine when it comes to this by no administration on many things, but specifically as it relates to immigration.

The only doctrine I can seem to find is do the opposite of whatever President Trump did.

This is an administration that fought to eliminate the state in Mexico policy, has a DOJ that sued the state of Arizona for using makeshift shipping containers as a barrier on the wall, that fought to have Title 42 overturned, so be careful what you wish for.

The migrant crisis in New York has cost in the billions.

We have Mayor Adams shipping migrants from New York City further north.

There is a lack of humanity that is prevalent all across this issue.

There are people banging on the table complaining.

None of the people we have elected have rolled up their sleeves to do the difficult work of securing the border, which grants dignity to people on the others of the border, and creates a framework for us to deal with the real problem of, how do we care for those are already -- for those who are already among us?

Jenna: It is a challenging subject about what to do at the border, but as people inevitably crossed the border, the city is expecting a large surge of migrants coming into the city, and we are already having trouble finding safe spaces for those migrants to reside as they figure out their status.

From your take, what do you make of Mayor Adams' decision to push some of these people into the Hudson Valley?

It almost feels like human hot potato.

I don't mean that in a snarky way.

If they are coming from the border, going to a state like Texas, Texas sends them to New York, and New York sends them somewhere else.

Basil: It feels like it is the policy of pain when it comes to dealing with migrants.

I speak quite frequently about those images of Haitians who appear to have been whipped by border patrol agents on horseback.

Those images still get stuck in my mind, not to mention the stories from so many years ago, migrants at the border and the conditions in which they are living, but the mayor is in a really tough spot.

We are a state and a city called a sanctuary city.

There are clearly a tax on that, not just within the state, but across the country on such cities and such policies.

When you heard the mayor having to beg the governor and the president, members of his own party for more support, you could imagine this is a crisis that is only deepening.

When we think about him sending migrants further north, I think about whether or not -- the hope is that the governments in other parts of the state will be as welcoming and supportive of these migrants.

The costs that are involved, the support services, it is certainly taxing New York City in ways that were completely unexpected, but we have to engage as Democrats.

We still have to engage in the humanitarian politics that the parties known for.

Jenna: Could this shuffling of people around -- I really want to emphasize these are people in a crisis -- the shuffling of people around, is it something that could change the reputation of what is known as an immigrant city?

Ellis: I am optimistic on this one.

We have a tremendous tradition of welcoming people all over the world, people who arrive with legal papers and those who don't.

There will be some initial settlement issues, but the backbone of this city, we need people to help our economy and do jobs.

Some may end up in the state.

Some may end up in the city.

I think we've shown that the country had to do this right.

I've got to tell you.

I think these are the New Yorkers of tomorrow.

I have high hopes.

Jenna: OK, but showing the rest of the world we do this right, we do know a Rockland County executive has declared a state of emergency to indicate that Rockland is in a place equipped to handle an influx of new individuals who need so much support because they are coming to the country as migrants.

That is correct, but a lot of it is about getting resources.

Listen, it is going to cause inconvenience, and we will have to pay some money for it, but I will rest on our history on this thing.

I bet we will look back at this as something to feel proud of.

Jenna: Joseph, I love to get your take.

Upstate New York, we've discussed several times, very different from downstate New York.

Is this a different resource thing where Rockland County need support, or is this something else?

Joseph: It is certainly about resources.

Mayor Adams has already declared the emergency for migrants will cost north of $5 billion.

We know for a fact if you juxtapose that with the deep reservoir of pain from New Yorkers already in need, we have most people in public housing.

We've got elevators that don't work.

We are billions of dollars behind in annual repairs to public housing complexes.

Yes, not only do migrants need assistance, but there is also the reality that existing New Yorkers need assistance that has not been forthcoming.

This is an issue that has to be dealt with.

Otherwise, local politicians will be playing hot potato with people's lives.

This is pain and suffering for individuals who are being flown in on flights in the dead of night.

This is not a way to run a country.

This is not a way to treat human beings.

This is going to be a lot of trouble, from Title 42 expiring, what the troops on the border are going to do.

The Biden administration hasn't told us in full detail, but every day, we have more and more people undocumented, got-away who have escaped capture.

People are in need of help.

We need a comprehensive immigration strategy that does not depend on county executives and mayors being the ones crafting foreign policy for the United States of America.

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