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Conservatives Have Found Their New Kyle Rittenhouse

A tall white man with curly blond hair (Daniel Penny) is led out of a building by police.

In November 2021, Kyle Rittenhouse, the then-teenage boy who fatally shot two people and injured a third in Kenosha, Washington during a protest, was declared not guilty. The verdict, while despicable, did not come as a shock. Young, white, right-wing men with a militaristic streak are held to a different standard in the United States. At his murder trial, the prosecution was not allowed to refer to his victims as “victims” at all, despite the fact these two men died by homicide. The judge did, however, allow the defense to refer to the victims as “rioters,” “looters,” and “arsonists” because that is what these anti-racist protesters were said to be doing at the time of their deaths, despite video evidence to the contrary.

The bias in the trial was clear. On the stand, conservatives saw a young, morally righteous man who answered a call to arms to defend American values against liberal malcontents hellbent on tearing those values down. It doesn’t matter that Rittenhouse crossed state lines to bring a rifle to a protest. It doesn’t matter that two of the three men that Rittenhouse shot were unarmed (unless a skateboard counts as a deadly weapon). It doesn’t matter that those men died at the hands of the very thing they were protesting: excessive, deadly violence carried out by hyper-militarized law enforcement officers and those who sympathize with them. Right-wing media and politicians hailed Rittenhouse as the face of their movement and conservatives across America were happy to pay his legal fees, using their dollars to fund another battle in the American culture war.

This isn’t the first time that conservatives rushed to the financial aid of accused killers and their accomplices. Thomas Lane, one of the cops who looked on while Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd, managed to post bail after raising $750,000 through crowdfunding. Now conservatives are sponsoring a new murder suspect: Daniel Penny.

Daniel Penny is a 24-year-old college student and Marine veteran from New York. He was recently arrested for allegedly fatally strangling Jordan Neely—a houseless Black man—on the subway. According to witnesses and video footage, Penny tackled Neely to the ground after the latter allegedly became disruptive on the train. A witness at the scene said that Neely was acting in an “erratic manner”, telling passengers that he did not have access to food. Freelance journalist Juan Alberto Velasquez, who later recorded video of the incident, said in a statement to the New York Times that Neely then threw his coat onto the floor and began to shout “I’m tired already, I don’t care if I go to jail and get locked up. I’m ready to die.’” Other witnesses at the scene told police that Neely never physically assaulted anyone.

At Penny’s arraignment, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said that Penny “approached Mr. Neely from behind and placed him in a chokehold, taking him down to the ground.” Velasquez began to take video, which shows Penny holding Neely in a chokehold for four minutes while two other men held Neely’s arms and legs. Passengers on the train can be heard in the video warning Penny to be careful “you don’t want to catch a murder charge,” and “You got a hell of a chokehold, man.”

Firefighters arrived at the scene seven minutes after receiving a call for help, and Neely was taken to Lenox Health Hospital in Greenwich, where he was later pronounced dead. Penny was questioned by the police the same day, but was later released hours later in a decision that drew widespread ire from left-leaning political leaders and the public. Prosecutors waited 10 days to charge Daniel Penny with second-degree manslaughter. When Penny was finally arrested, he was released on bail shortly after. Meanwhile, the media—and not even just the overtly conservative media—fell over themselves depicting the fatal violence allegedly perpetrated by Penny as necessary and unavoidable, if not outright heroic.

Everyone who has lived in New York for an extended period of time has encountered an unhoused person causing a “disturbance” on the train. The majority of New Yorkers know that these people, while maybe loud and disruptive, do not mean harm. Most people who cause a disruption on the train will vent their frustration and get off. It isn’t personal. It isn’t even directed at the passengers in front of them. It is a cry of frustration at a city whose government has proven time and time again to be indifferent to the struggles of the houseless. The city’s current mayor Eric Adams has embraced policies toward the unhoused that are viewed as actively detrimental by homelessness advocates. New York City is failing its homeless population, and Jordan Neely is a tragic casualty of both a broken system and a man who in that moment chose to not sympathize.

Conservatives are failing to sympathize with Neely’s plight as well, and have embraced Penny as a “hero” who saved the helpless subway riders of New York from a “dangerous assailant.” A crowdfunding campaign set up to cover Neely’s legal fees has already raised nearly $2.7 million as of this writing, and that number is still climbing. Almost 55,000 people have donated to Neely’s cause, including some New Yorkers. A number of comments made to media outlets or left on the donation page thank Penny for “trying to help” and stepping up to “the call of duty.” Except it was not his “duty” to act as a vigilante and (allegedly) murder a man in distress.

One donor said “New York and the United States should be ashamed” for “attacking this hero”, and believe me, we are. As a New Yorker, I am ashamed that my city has once again failed its most desperate of citizens. Jordan Neely did not deserve to die.

(featured image: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

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Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels in crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.