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Law professor on Jordan Neely's death: 'A moral failure and national tragedy'

CHICAGO --- On May 1, Jordan Neely was killed by a fellow passenger on the subway in New York City. Professor Jamelia Morgan, the director of the Center for Racial and Disability Justice at Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law, is available for comment. She is an expert on issues at the intersection of race, disability and criminal law and punishment in the United States.

Quote from Professor Morgan

"Jordan Neely was choked to death this past week in a horrific act of vigilante violence. As an unsheltered Black man believed to be in mental crisis, Neely's very existence and cries for help that day on that New York City subway train were viewed as threatening and dangerous. For decades, public and private actors have relied on violence (operationalized through quality-of-life offenses) to regulate access to, and use of, public space. Quality-of-life offenses give police the power to arrest — and private citizens the power to report — individuals for so-called disorders to the general public and welfare. These kinds of offenses can result in citation, and in some cases arrests. They can also lead to violent encounters, not only with police but also private citizens. Quality-of-life policing is not just about maintaining order or promoting public safety — it is a risk to public safety for those viewed as outsiders to the community. Neely, as an unsheltered Black man with potential mental health diagnoses, was vulnerable to these particular forms of violence.

"In an era when unsheltered people lack affordable and accessible housing, the fight over public safety will continue and violent efforts to exclude marginalized groups from public spaces will continue unless elected officials take a stand to end citations and arrests for quality-of-life offenses and commit dollars to the social infrastructure necessary to keep all within the community safe. Public violence (through criminal law enforcement) and private violence (through vigilantes) should not be used to regulate access to public space and behaviors in public space — especially for people who have no place else to go. In the richest country in human history, such public and private policing is a moral failure and national tragedy. Jordan Neely deserved more from a country that failed him in so many ways."