Street Thugs and the Intellectual Thugs Who Enable Them

On a Sunday morning two weeks ago, I was riding the F train from Manhattan into Brooklyn when I witnessed an incident that is typical of the kinds of unpleasant interactions to which normal New York City subway commuters are routinely subjected. A large black man got on, hip-hop music with profane lyrics blasting from a speaker hooked up to his phone. Two young gay menone white, one likely Hispanicwho had been carrying on a conversation near where the newcomer sat down looked visibly annoyed and one of them threw a stern look in the new rider’s general direction. The black guy caught the look and immediately sprang from his seat.

“You got something to say?” he shouted.

Met with silence and an averted gaze from the two seated men, he persisted.

“You got something to say, say it, cuz I’ll fuck you up right here, nigga!”

The two men stared forward and downward uncomfortably. The man who had confronted them remained standing, continuing to blast his music, until getting off the train a few stops later. Only then did the two riders resume their conversation.

On May 1, riding a different F train near the Broadway-Lafayette stop in Manhattan, was 30-year-old Jordan Neely, a homeless black man with a history of mental illness who had been arrested 42 times, including for punching a 65-year-old woman in June 2021 and a 67-year-old woman in November of the same year. I should note here that someone who has been arrested 42 times has proven beyond any doubt that he cannot be trusted in society and should be confined either to a prison or a mental hospital for his own safety and ours. But he was out and about and, on May 1, he was aboard that F train threatening riders, up to no good yet again. Witnesses report that he was yelling, tossed down his jacket, was throwing around garbage and shouted that he was “fed up,” that he “didn’t care” if he went to “prison for life” and that he was “ready to die.”

That kind of behavior would make almost anyone on that subway car apprehensive. Fortunately, unlike the incident I had witnessed a few weeks earlier, in which we had to sit silently and hope that the threatened violence would not materialize, in the case of Jordan Neely, a 24-year-old Marine named Daniel Penny happened to be on the train and, with the assistance of other riders, managed to subdue Neely and put him in a chokehold. Unfortunately, the Marine squeezed too hard or held on too long, and Neely passed out and later died.

Neely did not deserve to die, of course. But neither did his death represent some wholly unexpected and shocking turn of events. When you get on the subway and start threatening riders and act like a dangerous lunatic—and, given Neely’s criminal record, engage in such risky behavior repeatedly—the possibility that sooner or later, something bad could happen to you or others around you is necessarily higher than it would be during afternoon tea.

Absent some startling revelations, there would seem to be no doubt whatsoever that Penny did not leave home that day looking to harm or kill anyone. It is doubtful he was itching to partake in some white-on-black violence or expecting to play the role of hero or subway vigilante. Nor is this one of those exceedingly rare cases in which a police officer charged with upholding the law crosses the line and engages in an act of what amounts to state-sanctioned violence against an unarmed citizen. 

Here, instead, what we have is a case of an unarmed civilian acting in reasonable apprehension for the safety of himself and fellow subway riders, and working in concert with others who clearly had the same concern, to restrain an unstable and dangerous man. The unintended consequence was that it resulted in his death. Needless to say, the incidents in which black criminals engage in violence against white civilians—what is more, intentional, malicious violence rather than self-defense resulting in accidental death—are far more common and never garner the sort of publicity that has accompanied Neely’s sad demise.

The way this unfortunate incident has played out since is the reason we cannot have a safe city and subway system in New York. 

A CNN story about the incident ran under the absurd headline, “Jordan Neely, the man killed in chokehold on NYC subway, is remembered as an entertainer shattered by his mother’s murder,” and quoted New York Governor Kathy Hochul, who utterly mischaracterized the incident. “I do want to acknowledge how horrific it was to view a video of Jordan Neely being killed for being a passenger on the subway train,” and then irresponsibly concluding that Neely’s family “deserves justice.” The usual outspoken and unrepresentative activists and “journalists” have likewise crawled out of the woodwork to demand that the Marine be charged with a crime. The hate-mongering Black Lives Matter goons have also reappeared on the scene.

These, undoubtedly, are many of the same people who rose up in protest at Mayor Eric Adams’ plan to do more to institutionalize mentally ill people who are a danger to themselves or others. Now, hypocritically, they accuse the city of having failed to give Neely the mental health assistance he needed. Ever more concerned with the rights of thugs and miscreants than with the rights of everyday New Yorkers, these people resist all calls to have dangerous nutjobs institutionalized and treated. When the predictable result is 1) an incident in which an innocent person gets hurt or killed, they react as if there’s nothing to see here, or 2) an incident in which the miscreant himself is hurt or killed, they invariably blame the police officer or, as in this case, the concerned citizen who intervened to stop the madness.

And this why we find ourselves at the mercy of thugs, bums, and psychos who threaten and bully us with impunity. Like the two guys on my F train, we are scared to stand up to the boors who endanger us, and on those few occasions where someone like the Marine on Jordan Neely’s F train exhibits the bravery necessary to confront the miscreants, the intellectual thugs swoop in to defend the street thugs with whom they have an obvious affinity. The intellectual thugs’ message is clear: if you dare stand up to the street thugs, we will finish the job and beat you back down.

Just like the street thugs, the intellectual thugs are far outnumbered by ordinary citizens of the sort who have still not lost their fundamental moral compass. Like all bullies, however, the activists succeed in keeping the majority silent through intimidation and fear. We face the threat of physical violence from street thugs. Then, if we dare to raise our voices or our fists in protest, we face the threat of intellectual violence—pressure campaigns, smear campaigns, threats to have critics fired and deplatformed, and so on—from the intellectual thugs.

If we have any hope of reclaiming our cities and our nation from these malefactors, it lies in collective action, using the strength of numbers in our favor by presenting a united front against the civilization-destroying mob. To accomplish that, however, we will need to send a very clear message that seems positively revolutionary in today’s hijacked political environment. 

That message is this, and it must be stated without reservation or apology: The rights of ordinary, law-abiding citizens—people who work and commute and support families and communities and generally make our cities healthy, productive, and vibrant metropolises—are worth more than and must be prioritized over the rights of the parasites, idlers, vagrants, junkies, thugs, bums, hoodlums, and criminal miscreants who value neither themselves nor anyone else, who befoul our public spaces and make our daily lives more difficult and unpleasant than they need to be.

That sound, sane principle used to be so universally accepted and uncontroversial that it went without saying and did not need to be stated explicitly. But it can no longer be taken for granted in a society in which governments accord convicted criminals first priority in applying for coveted commercial licenses, tolerate known open drug scenes, and even enable illegal drug users (without regard for the toll on local communities and businesses) by providing free injection sites in the guise of cutting down on overdose deaths, while rogue prosecutors refuse to pursue misdemeanors or impose cash bail and let serial offenders roam the streets so that retailers can do little to curb an epidemic of shoplifting and the general public must endure more dangerous streets and subways.

In the end, we as a society have to ask ourselves the simple question of what message we want to send. If the intellectual thugs’ demands are met, and Daniel Penny is charged with causing Jordan Peely’s death, we will be sending a clear message that we must let the dangerous street thugs in our midst threaten and endanger us as they please while we sit in silence, avert our gazes, tremble in fear as crazy incidents like this occur on a daily basis and hope for the best. Woe be to us if we lift a finger against them. But if brave people stand on principle and reject the intellectual thugs’ clamor today, we will be sending a very different message every street thug among us needs to hear: when you threaten us and endanger our safety, you take your life in your hands.

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About Alexander Zubatov

Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, essays, and polemics that have been featured in a wide variety of publications. He lives in the belly of the beast in New York, New York. He can be found on Twitter @Zoobahtov.

Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images