Capitalism Killed Jordan Neely, a Homeless Man

Jordan Neely

Supporters of Jordan Neely are pictured during a vigil in the Broadway-Lafayette subway station on Wednesday, May, 3, 2023, in Manhattan, New York. Credit Image: © Barry Williams/New York Daily News via ZUMA Press Wire

The 24-year-old man who choked Jordan Neely to death thought to kill Neely before he thought to provide him with food or water, or the money needed to get those things.

While it may be mind-boggling for the people on that train – or any train or street in America – to realize, the obvious thing they should have done is give Neely food, water, or money. It’s that simple.

Instead, they defended the societal norm to the death. The norm that you don’t give food, water, or money to panhandlers. The norm that anyone asking for those things is in the wrong. That money only comes when it is hard-earned, and that we don’t share our hard-earned money with strangers – or even close family members – who need it because then we’re just enabling them to fail at life.

This is capitalism.

You have the right to use your talents to pursue making money, and then that money is YOURS; no matter how dire the situation is for someone else, no matter how insignificant giving a bit of it away might be, you don’t give it up. 

Some people are too greedy to give it up. Others, and perhaps many of the people on Neely’s train, are just following a norm. They wouldn’t mind giving up some money if they really thought about it. But they don’t because it would look weird – it’s a conformity issue.

If you are a good person, which most people are, and you have enough money, there is no way you pass someone who is desperate on the street without giving them money unless you have justified it in your mind.

The idea that all men and women are created equal is part of our societal ideology in this country. The problem is the belief that we are created equal, but that if you end up in a position where you’re begging, you’re somehow less than equal.

That is how not giving up money is justified. That is how the murder of Jordan Neely is justified.

How many times do we have to write it here: participating in “traditional capitalistic forms of grind,” as National Homelessness Law Center Board Member Khadijah Williams put it, does not make you a better person than someone who doesn’t. You are no more kind or loving or even more talented. (Talent is universal – it’s just that not all of our talents align with a path leading to payment in our current society.) 

Invisible People greatly impacts those who will listen, but there are still so many who are stubborn and don’t even try to let these words sink in.

When we say homeless people are just as kind and loving as housed people, that should mean something to you. Because it’s all that matters. What kind of talent you have, which leads to what kind of job you have and how much money you make, doesn’t matter. 

Rather than understanding that concept, too many people in this country are racist or homophobic. They don’t give anyone of certain skin colors, sexual orientations, or gender identities a fair chance.

Then there are those who are silently killing our nation. Those who are proud supporters of every race, sexual orientation, and gender identity, but who will not budge from their capitalistic views. Those who say, “If you can’t find a way to support yourself, tough luck,” even when all the odds are stacked against certain individuals because of a lack of access to education.

The battle between Neely, age 30, and the 24-year-old man on the train shouldn’t have been a physical fight at that moment. It’s a battle we must start to fight in legal, political, and social arenas far in advance. We need the Housing First approach. We need to give everyone shelter and enough money to support themselves unconditionally. 

Housing First isn’t just about getting people sober from drugs, though it is the best way to facilitate that process. It also allows people to use their talents and pursue their passions. In other words, it gives them the opportunity to work and make a living!

We all work extremely hard when we are passionate about something and are in a suitable condition physically and mentally. We all have a lot to contribute to the world, and we can debunk the myth that some of us are uncaring and lazy by giving everyone basic human needs FIRST.

The tragedy is that a 24-year-old man, who is so young, couldn’t see the big picture. Capitalism ideals were already so ingrained in him that he was moved to violence.

Adding to the sadness, we know there could have easily been a 22-, 20- or 18-year-old on that train who would have done the same thing. So many of our youth do not reject capitalism.

Too many lack the idealism about the way things should be. There’s no 6-year-old still within them eager to give money to the first panhandler they see, as I know I was. And they won’t listen to me, a 32-year-old telling them that the world doesn’t have to be evil. Telling them it’s still ok to want to give money to that panhandler.

My beliefs come from a very rational place, and I’m 32. People in their 20s should note what I’m saying and learn from this tragedy. Neely was 30. He deserved the respect of that 24-year-old as his elder. Instead, he was treated like nothing and murdered. 

If a 30- or 40-year-old had murdered him, I couldn’t point this out. The fact that it was a 24-year-old makes it doubly embarrassing for us as a society. We only needed to give Neely some food, water, or money. A new generation has risen to adulthood without compassion and the ability to realize that.

Zack Ward

Zack Ward

Zack does social media for the Worcester, MA chapter of StandUp For Kids, a nonprofit focused on ending the cycle of youth homelessness. His focuses at Invisible People are affordable housing and criminalization.

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