Republican hopefuls of 2024 rush to defend the man who killed Jordan Neely

WASHINGTON (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged the nation to show Daniel Penny that “America is behind him.” Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley called on the New York governor to pardon Penny, and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy donated $10,000 to his legal defense fund.

Republican presidential candidates are lining up to support Penny, a 24-year-old US Navy veteran who was caught on video strangling an agitated subway passenger in New York City. The passenger, 30-year-old Jordan Neely, later died from compression of his neck, according to the coroner.

Penny was charged with manslaughter. His lawyers say he acted in self-defense.

He’s already become a hero to many Republicans, who trumpet Penny as the good Samaritan working to protect others in a Democrat-run city where crime is on the rise. The support was unwavering, despite the fact that Neely, who was black, never made contact with anyone on the train before being placed in a chokehold by Penny, who is white, for several minutes.

The rush to endorse Penny is reminiscent of how then-President Donald Trump and other leading Republicans vehemently supported Kyle Rittenhouse during the 2020 presidential election. Rittenhouse, a white teenager who killed two men and injured a third in a tumultuous night of protest in Wisconsin over the death of a black man, was acquitted.

Recently, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to pardon Daniel Perry, a white Army sergeant who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for being involved in a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest in the state capital Austin fatally shot an armed man.

Leading Republicans have attempted to turn rising crime rates into a political burden on Democrats. The Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives traveled to New York City last month – before Neely was killed – for a hearing examining “victims of violent crime in Manhattan.”

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Democrats and racial justice advocates counter that the GOP’s messages to restore “law and order” draw on entrenched racism.

“You have a playbook for winning elections that’s based on really taking the worst of human nature and making it really clear with division and fear,” said Jumaane Williams, a Democrat who is New York’s public advocate. “And when race and class matter, it’s like Christmas time for them.”

Known to some commuters as a Michael Jackson impersonator, Neely suffered from mental illness and had a history of numerous arrests. Bystanders said he yelled at passengers, begged for money and behaved aggressively, but did not touch anyone on board the train.

Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said the GOP’s presidential candidates see Penny’s cause as a way to enthuse their party’s grassroots.

“There is very little cons within the Republican electorate, considering it aligns so well with issues that are incredibly important to Republican voters in terms of law and order and fit with this narrative of the degeneration of urban life,” Borick said. “That’s the message — the message from Trump and his bloc of Republicans — that the ‘crazy’ are a threat and we must do what we can to protect the ‘Americans’ in any way we can.”

But Republican defenses of whites after black killings often differ greatly from incidents in which whites are killed. A key example is Ashli ​​Babbitt, the white former Air Force veteran who was shot dead by a black police officer during the January 6, 2021 riot while attempting to climb through a broken window in the US Capitol.

Black PAC chief executive Adrianne Shropshire said the issue goes beyond the presidential race, noting that some Republican-controlled legislatures passed measures against institutional racism and police brutality in the wake of the 2020 protest wave to toughen protesters to punish.

Shropshire, whose group works to increase political engagement and voter turnout among African Americans, said the issue reinforces Republicans’ long-standing commitment to “protecting whiteness, which is the essence of this.”

As for Democrats, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted before the indictment that Neely’s “killer” would be “protected” while “many rulers demonize the poor.” New York Mayor Eric Adams called Neely’s death a “tragedy that should never have happened,” but warned against making irresponsible statements before all the facts are known.

Rafael Mangual, research director for policing and public safety at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative New York think tank, said the case reveals deep legal ambiguities that many people from both parties overlook.

“I was very dismayed to see politicians on the left calling Daniel Penny a murderer and politicians on the right speaking out and saying, ‘This is what we have to do,'” Mangual said. “I don’t want to live in a world where maintaining public order is the responsibility of everyday helpers.”

There was no such hesitation from Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who called Penny a “heroine,” or Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who dubbed Penny “Subway Superman” and once offered Rittenhouse an internship .

Trump, who is now running for president for the third time, said this week he had not seen the video but told The Messenger that he thinks Penny “is in great danger and the other people in the car are in great danger.” “.

“We must defeat the Soros-funded DAs, stop the left’s pro-criminal agenda, and reclaim the streets for law-abiding citizens,” tweeted DeSantis, who is preparing to announce his 2024 presidential nomination, echoing false claims that the Billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros orchestrated the indictment of Trump.

“We stand with good Samaritans like Daniel Penny,” DeSantis wrote, including a link to a donation page for Penny. “Let’s show this Marine that America has his back.”

Rev. Al Sharpton (right) and Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green (left) sit and listen as Mildred Mahazu (center), great aunt of Jordan Neely - the victim of a fatal stranglehold on a subway train - speaks during Neely's funeral service at Harlem's Mount Neboh Baptist Church, Friday, May 19, 2023 , in NYC. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Rev. Al Sharpton (right) and Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green (left) sit and listen as Mildred Mahazu (center), great aunt of Jordan Neely – the victim of a fatal stranglehold on a subway train – speaks during Neely’s funeral service at Harlem’s Mount Neboh Baptist Church, Friday, May 19, 2023 , in NYC. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Former Ambassador Haley told Fox News Channel that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, Democrat, should pardon Penny. Ramaswamy donated to the Penny Defense Fund through GiveSendGo, a website that also raised funds in support of the insurgents who attacked the Capitol on the day Babbitt was killed. Around $2 million in donations was raised for Penny.

During Neely’s funeral on Friday, Rev. Al Sharpton made an indirect response to Penny’s supporters: “A good Samaritan helps those in need, he doesn’t suffocate them.”

Williams, an ombudsman who can investigate citizen complaints about government agencies and services, said that since 1988, prominent Republicans have politically exploited violence with racist overtones in political ads starring Willie Horton, a black murderer who got out during a weekend vacation raped a white woman in prison. He also pointed out that many of the people who are now donating to Penny’s defense fund likely also supported cutting back on social programs that would have benefited the likes of Neely.

“These people don’t say, ‘Let’s play it out and see what happens,'” Williams said. “They instantly make a hero into someone who killed someone on a train who was screaming and screaming because they were hungry.”

Associated Press writer Luke Sheridan contributed to this report from New York.

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