On the morning of May 17, subway commuters crisscrossing Manhattan’s busy Broadway-Lafayette station were met with a message that was impossible to avoid. Activists covered the tiled wall between the uptown and downtown B/D/F/M train platforms with red paint and the words “JUSTICE FOR JORDAN NEELY” and “ERIC ADAMS YOU HAVE BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS,” according to photos shared on Twitter and by the local publication Hell Gate.
Only weeks before, the subway junction was the murder site of Jordan Neely, a 30-year-old unhoused man known for his friendly persona and lively Michael Jackson subway performances. On May 1, while aboard the F train, another subway rider and ex-marine named Daniel Penny placed Neely in a lethal chokehold that led to his death. Last week, Penny was charged with second-degree manslaughter.
By 11am, the message had been washed off and only the red paint remained. Officers standing near the leftover paint declined to speak to Hyperallergic, but did state that the paint “had been there for days.”
Since Neely’s killing, the station located at the intersection of NoHo and SoHo has become a center for actions protesting the city’s racist criminalization of its unhoused residents and memorializing Neely. The crimson display, reminiscent of a brutal crime scene, was accompanied by a letter to “cop mayor” Eric Adams that called out “vigilante violence” and the structural imbalances of power and wealth in the city’s political and social landscape.
“We are fed up with the attacks on the working class, crime baiting, the austerity budgets, the endless demonizing of the most vulnerable people in our society,” the letter read. “This wasn’t a single tragedy — we are in a crisis. Whose side are you on?”
Speaking anonymously, activists told Hell Gate reporters that the entire intervention took “less than five minutes to execute,” and that the paint was meant to continue to criticize Adams’s treatment of unhoused communities in the city and broader social stigmas regarding race and mental illness.
“It’s not just about one incident of racism, and it’s definitely not just about Jordan Neely ‘having a mental episode.’ This is about organized abandonment, systemic neglect,” they said.