Unequal Protection: Jordan Neely Killing Highlights White Supremacy Ingrained in US Society

A while back, I talked about NY mayor Eric Adams’ plan to round up and forcibly commit unhoused people deemed “mentally ill”. Part of my point was that it’s disturbingly easy for police, mental institutions, and the courts, to label someone who’s perfectly rational as “crazy”, and then force them into situations that are virtually designed to destroy a person’s mental health:

They had the means to verify what she was saying, but instead they dismissed all of it as delusions, forced her to take powerful psychoactive drugs, and demanded that she convincingly lie about herself before she be released:

According to the New York Daily News, a treatment plan for Ms Brock at the hospital states: ‘Objective: Patient will verbalize the importance of education for employment and state that Obama is not following her on Twitter.’

This was torture. They imprisoned a person, and for nine days they told her she was insane. They forcibly drugged her, and denied her reality over, and over and over again for days. And then, one day, they gave her discharge papers, and put her out the back door of the hospital. A few days later, she got a bill for $13,000 worth of “treatment”. The idea of holding anyone criminally responsible for this nightmare was apparently never even on the table, so she went with the option left to her – she sued them.

And lost in 2019.

Brock began sobbing as the verdict was read.

“It’s reasonable for them to diagnose me with bipolar even though I’m telling the truth?” Brock said through tears.

“What am I supposed to do? I’m crazy because of this verdict.”

In the United States of America, it is apparently legal for police to decide that you’re “in need of medical treatment”, restrain, drug, and imprison you, and for doctors to keep you prisoner, keep you drugged, and demand that you deny reality because they said so. Not only is it legal, it’s apparently barely newsworthy. I could only find two articles online that followed up on Kam Brock’s story, and I needed a VPN to read them because they’re geo-restricted to the U.S., like so much other “local news” that’s not considered worth a larger platform. How can this be?

Well, I suspect that, aside from the ever-present white supremacy in our law enforcement system, it’s because it’s considered perfectly acceptable to do all of that to “crazy” people. Solitary confinement, assault, sexual assault, some of the most powerful psychoactive drugs available – all are just routine parts of how our society deals with mental illness, to the point where all of this can happen, triggered by some cop deciding to hassle the black woman in the expensive car, and it’s barely newsworthy that a court, as Brock said, ruled that she was “crazy”.

It’s even more horrifying when you consider what this means for the rest of Brock’s life. It’s now a legal fact that she’s “crazy”. The torture inflicted on her was ruled by the courts to be just fine. That means that if this, or something like this happens again, there is legal precedent that it’s OK to imprison and torture this woman. Any legal dispute she’s in in the future will have this hanging over it. Any time she has a negligent or vindictive landlord, or a dispute with a neighbor, or is wrongfully fired, it could make that nightmare happen again. Crying seems like a pretty reasonable response.

Remember how we saw, over the last few years, the way white women have been able to weaponize white supremacy to sic cops on black people? Brock now has to deal with that, plus the legal declaration that she’s crazy. Practically anyone has the power to get her locked up at any time, for any reason, because some cop decided to pull her over.

It’s made worse by the fact that, as I mentioned earlier, mental health has always had a political dimension to it, and just as white supremacy didn’t end when the Civil Rights Act was passed, the politicization of sanity and the stigma against people with mental illness – sanism – is also very much alive and well within the systems that govern the people of the United States.

I think any person who’s reasonably well-informed can understand that it’s not possible to honestly discuss the US “justice” system, without also discussing white supremacy. Likewise, the history of mental health, in the US, is also steeped in white supremacy. There’s a quote I like throwing around, from a composer named Frank Wilhoit:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, along side out-groups whom the law binds, but does not protect

When you consider conservative policy and rhetoric, I think it’s important to keep “Wilhoit’s Law” in mind. When we hear about a plan to forcibly commit “mentally ill” unhoused people, it’s important to remember that in the United States, the law is never applied equally. That’s part of why so many well-off white conservatives are happy to draft laws limiting people’s rights – experience has taught them that the “spirit of the law” isn’t really meant to apply to them. They get a scolding for drug use, or a slap on the wrist for rape, while a black kid can be locked up for years, without trial or plea, on suspicion of maybe stealing a backpack.

We are working to change the world, but as we do so, we also have to deal with the world as it is, and in this world, equal protection under the law does not exist.

Race isn’t the only dynamic here, either. We’ve already discussed mental illness, and the way that label can be forced onto people, but I think it’s worth spending a little more time on the consequences of that. There’s stigma associated, of course, and that can be a problem, but it gets much, much worse. Above, we already saw how it’s apparently fine drug, imprison, and torture someone because of a “reasonable belief” that they’re mentally ill. If this feels familiar to the “reasonable belief” of danger that cops use to justify killing, that’s because it is. This extends beyond cops, too – when a white person kills a black person, the same defenses often crop up as when a cop kills a black person. Remember – in-groups whom the law protects, but does not bind. And that’s how you end up with a white man slowly killing a black man while a subway car of people look on, and not only did the NYPD not arrest him, news outlets praised him, while denigrating the murdered man. From the New York Post:

Dramatic new video shows a straphanger taking matters into his own hands, pinning down an unhinged man in a deadly incident at a Manhattan subway station this week.

The 24-year-old passenger stepped in after the vagrant, identified by sources as Jordan Neely, 30, began going on an aggressive rant on a northbound F train Monday afternoon, according to police and a witness who took the video.

Neely was “ranting” about the fact that he was starving, and he was killed for it.

And according to the police, a number of news outlets, and a lot of shitty people on the internet, that’s just fine. You see, in the United States, black lives often don’t matter, and the situation only gets worse when you add in mental illness. Neely apparently had a criminal record, but as illustrated above, that doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot, because cops and the courts can just decide that reality doesn’t matter, and because cops plant evidence, and arrest people for bullshit reasons. Neely was not protected by the law, but he was absolutely bound by it.

But more than that, his criminal record shouldn’t matter because nothing he did justified killing him. The man who killed Neely was, apparently, a Marine vet. According to the articles I’ve read, he held Neely in a chokehold for 15 minutes. At most, it takes 5 minutes to die from that, and I feel like a Marine, more than most people, should be aware of that. That’s why the word “murder” keeps coming to mind – if he’d choked Neely till he stopped struggling, then let go and made sure he was still alive, that would still be assault, but I’d be more inclined to believe that there was no intent to kill. By all accounts, that is not what happened.

I don’t know what was going on in the killer’s head, and at the moment I don’t really care. What matters is that we have a society in which a white man can strangle a black man to death in front of witnesses, and be allowed to walk free – in which a killer like this is not bound by the law. The news about this is going viral, so the killer may face a trial after all, and some news outlets may change the tone of their coverage. I don’t think either of those things entered the realm of possibility until activists made it impossible to ignore.

We can – must – work for change, but to do that, we must be clear about the world as it is.



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