The constant dehumanization of homeless


Linda Fletcher via Wikipedia

New York City homelessness has been a problem for decades though never properly addressed.

Alex Banerjee, News Editor

“Pull yourself up by the bootstraps”, a statement that seems increasingly inapplicable to the majority of the new generation in wake of financial difficulties plaguing all, but for the “wastes of space” of the world, it has always been inapplicable.

As our world has become more industrialized and capital motivated, those who fall behind have been set aside as useless. The cogs in the machine that break haven’t been repaired, just thrown away. The moment one becomes homeless, they are no longer a human to many. A capitalistic society places no value on the people that can’t provide a capital benefit.

The treatment of homeless as inhuman may not be explicit all the time, but often festers until the moment calls for it.

Jordan Neely was a 30 year old homeless man in New York City who was killed on May 1, 2023 by ex-marine Daniel Penny. Penny placed Neely in a chokehold for 15 minutes, even continuing to choke him after he laid motionless.

Neely was riding the F-train on the New York City Subway when he allegedly started screaming and threatening passengers. Ex-marine Daniel Penny then put Jordan Neely in a chokehold while bystanders recorded.

Neely, a Michael Jackson impersonator, who has been battling mental illnesses and addiction for years. Jordan’s mother, Christie Neely, was murdered in 2007 by her abusive boyfriend. Her body was found stuffed in a suitcase on the side of a Bronx highway.

Since then Jordan Neely has been battling schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that doctors have been aware of, yet never treated. Falling into addiction and homelessness, Neely lived on the street for years.

Daniel Penny surrendered to police on manslaughter charges 11 days later and then freed on the same day awaiting trial. He is facing second-degree manslaughter, with up to 15 years in prison. His GoSendGo crowdfunding has raised over $2.6 million for his legal fees.

In response to reporters Penny rarely spoke, most likely on advice from his legal team to not speak on the subject too much. Penny mainly stated that he is not a white supremacist, and did not kill Neely out of racist motivation. Though to what degree of remorse Penny has for his victim is unknown at this point, his supporters have been justifying their backing of the killing.

Outlets like Fox have been displaying Neely’s arrest record as almost a rationale for the killing. Most times when someone is unjustly killed, the arrest record of the victim is brought up as a justification. In 2020, George Floyd’s record was repeatedly brought up, often even exaggerated to bring defense of his killing.

Is the record of a victim important in deciding if they should have been brutally killed on the subway? Is the arrest record more important than any of the factors contributing to Neely’s rapidly deteriorating mental health?

Jordan Neely was put on the city’s roster of the top 50 homeless people in need of urgent assistance, yet he didn’t receive any substantial help. The story of a homeless person is the story of how the system has failed them, not of lack of ambition or skill.

Large parts of the media on the other hand see their clicks as of higher importance than humanizing their stories. The New York Post has an article currently up labeling Neely as an “unhinged man” but before revision was titled “vagrant”, which can still be seen in the url of the post. A dehumanizing title for the victim of a murder, but to many, homeless are barely even people..

Homeless people for decades have been considered far lesser, wastes of resources, and lazy addicts who love the streets and don’t want to leave. They have been seen as preferring to live on dirty streets rather than working, not struggling people who need help.

A capitalistic culture has ruined our perception of what a homeless person is, leading to anti-homeless measures throughout the country. New York City has continuously been implementing anti-homeless policies without trying to even help them. Whether that be in the form of making vents that send warm air up during winter impossible to lay on, or expanding the NYPD power to involuntarily hospitalize the homeless.

Vents that connect to subway and let out hot air were very popular for homeless to sleep on during the winter months. In 2021 they were remodeled to be wavy with hard protrusions that would make it impossible for homeless to sleep on. A type of “defense architecture”, architecture that is designed to keep out a certain kind of people. (Screenshot of Louis Rossman Youtube video by Alex Banerjee)

Current mayor Eric Adams has been known for his extreme anti-homeless measures including a zero tolerance policy for sleeping on train cars and homeless encampments. Adams has been known for displacing homeless without any proper way to help them.

There is no accessible route for the homeless to get back on their feet. Addicts on the street are treated as criminals, not mentally ill. Those with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia, are treated as “mental cases” that should just be ignored.

A capitalized country has conditioned us into thinking that if someone cannot help the system, then they are useless. Dehumanizing everybody like Neely who cannot help the system, and were pushed into homelessness by that very system.

There are two crises in this situation, the homelessness crisis and a humanitarian crisis. While our homeless rates in the US have been increasing, the empathy for them has not.

Properly treating them as humans is imperative for fixing the homelessness crisis. With well funded mental health and addiction care, homelessness can be reduced drastically. To get this we have to fix our attitudes on paying for the care of those “who don’t participate”, just because they are not working in the system, does not make them worthless.