Bruce Blakeman traveled to New York City last week to hold a rally in support of a white former Marine from West Islip arrested for the chokehold death on a subway car of Jordan Neely, a homeless 30-year-old Black man suffering from mental illness.
Why would the county executive of Nassau County stage a rally in Manhattan to support a man from Suffolk County?
Perhaps Blakeman has plans for higher office.
Blakeman has been a prominent statewide voice in opposing reforms to New York State’s bail laws that he has said were responsible for a spike in crime in New York the past two years. He has also run, albeit unsuccessfully, for U.S. Senate, state comptroller and Congress.
Maybe Blakeman thinks his time has come.
Several Republican candidates for office, among others, have also taken up the cause of Daniel Perry, who was charged a week after the fatal subway incident with manslaughter.
Video taken at the scene shows Perry coming up behind Neely, placing him in a chokehold with the assistance of two riders and squeezing Neely until Neely was dead.
The New York City medical examiner’s office said the cause of death was compression of the neck and ruled it a homicide
Neely had gotten on the train and shouted he was hungry and thirsty, that he did not mind “going to jail or getting life in prison” and was “ready to die.” But he had not physically threatened anyone on the train.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged the nation to show that “America’s got his back.” Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley called for New York’s governor to pardon Penny, and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy donated $10,000 to his legal defense fund.
Blakeman gave different reasons from behind a lectern set up by county employees bearing the Nassau logo in front of Manhattan Criminal Court.
“Why am I here today as the Nassau County executive? I’m here because every day tens of thousands of Nassau County residents commute to New York City — to do jobs, to explore entertainment, to go to cultural sites, to enjoy everything that Manhattan has to offer. But I’m worried about them. I’m worried about our Nassau County residents,” Blakeman said.
He added: “Just think of it: good Samaritans should be encouraged. Good Samaritans should be an important part of the fabric of our community. But here we have Daniel Penny, a good Samaritan, who’s being prosecuted for coming to the aid of his fellow Americans riding the subway in a peaceful manner.”
Amid a counterdemonstration in which at least one person called him a racist, Blakeman also said what Penny had done was not a “vigilante action.”
This is nonsense piled on nonsense, piled on nonsense. To put it politely.
What Penny did is exactly the definition of a vigilante: a member of a self-appointed group who enforces the law without legal authority.
Did Penny try to call the police before placing Neely in a chokehold that some accounts say lasted for 14 minutes? No. A Michael Jackson street performer, Neely hardly had an imposing presence.
So does Blakeman really want to permit citizens to use lethal force on people who are a public nuisance or in Blakeman’s words “making people feel unsafe?”
Would he press Nassau police not to arrest someone whose actions were ruled a homicide by the county medical examiner? Or pressure the Nassau DA not to charge him?
And how is choking a hungry, thirsty mentally ill homeless man to death the act of a good Samaritan? Wouldn’t one expect a good Samaritan to feed the man, try to calm him down, or at least call for help?
Then there is Blakeman’s claim that he was in Manhattan to protect the tens of thousands of Nassau residents who work and play in Manhattan each day. That would seem to be a good argument to require Nassau residents to foot some of the cost of keeping the city safe.
But it is not a reason for Blakeman to tell the New York City police and district attorney how to do their jobs.
New York City law enforcement was, in fact, protecting Nassau residents and everyone else by arresting someone the medical examiner ruled had committed a homicide.
Blakeman’s support of Perry also seems to imply his approval of Perry’s use of a chokehold. This is especially worrisome since it is illegal for police in New York to use the tactic under state law as well as federal officials under U.S. law.
Which seems to raise questions about how Nassau police operate.
Newsday recently reported that Nassau and Suffolk have paid $165 million since 2000 to end lawsuits that alleged police and prosecutorial misconduct, including excessive force, false imprisonment and wrongful death.
We recently questioned what Nassau was hiding when a national study by the Vera Institute found Nassau County tied for the second-lowest score for police transparency in the United States. The county scored 12 out of 100 in the survey.
Unlike New York City, Nassau County does not have a civilian review board and does not disclose information about complaints against police, their findings or any financial settlements when wrongdoing is proven.
Critics including state Attorney General Letitia James have expressed concerns about the lack of independent police oversight in Nassau County.
From 2016 to 2021, Nassau County police internal investigations reported zero “founded” cases of false arrest and excessive force by their fellow officers.
But during that time 30 people won court judgments against county police for 41 allegations.
For 38 of the allegations, the Nassau County Attorney’s Office paid out money to settle the cases while also barring the accusers from speaking publicly about the allegations.
Nor does Nassau County’s crime rate appear to be moving in the right direction. The county reported in January a 41% increase in major crimes in 2022 compared to a 15% increase in Suffolk County and a 22% rise in New York City.
That was the last time the county released its crime numbers. Unlike New York City, which releases its crime statistics monthly.
At his rally, Blakeman also criticized Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg directly for prosecuting Penny.
“[Bragg] puts the rights of criminals over those of law-abiding citizens and victims of crimes,” he said.
So the man choked to death is a criminal and the person who choked him is a law-abiding citizen? And the punishment for making people feel unsafe warrants the death penalty?
This is not the first time that the Manhattan district attorney has drawn Blakeman’s criticism.
He called the expected indictment of former President Trump on 34 felony counts “political and malicious prosecution” – five days before it was announced by Bragg.
Manhattan prosecutors accused Trump of orchestrating a hush-money scheme to pave his path to the presidency and then covering it up from the White House — in at least one case from the Oval Office. But, according to Blakeman, no action is warranted.
Bragg, a Democrat who is Black, said the indictment was a matter of treating Trump the way his office treats everyone else and that the charges were routinely made by his office.
Like Penny, Trump’s guilt or innocence will be up to a jury – as called for under the law.
Blakeman’s support of Penny and Trump appears to show a troubling double standard: law and order for “them” but not for “us.”
County taxpayers would be better served if Blakeman saved the theatrics in Manhattan and focused on an even-handed approach to law enforcement in Nassau.