WASHINGTON (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has urged the nation to show Daniel Penny that “America stands behind him.” Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley called on the governor of New York to pardon Penny, and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy donated $10,000 to her legal defense fund.
Republican presidential candidates lined up in support of Penny, a 24-year-old US Navy veteran who was filmed pinning another agitated New York City subway passenger to the ground in a chokehold. The passenger, Jordan Neely, 30, later died of neck compression, according to the medical examiner.
Penny was charged with manslaughter. His lawyers say he acted in self-defense.
He has already become a hero to many Republicans, who portrayed Penny as a Good Samaritan moving to protect others in a Democratic-run city that has seen rising crime rates. The support was unwavering, despite Neely, who was black, never being physical with anyone on the train before being placed in a chokehold for several minutes by Penny, who is white.
The rush to support Penny is reminiscent of how then-President Donald Trump and other top Republicans fiercely backed Kyle Rittenhouse in the 2020 presidential election. Rittenhouse, a white teenager who killed two men and injured a third during a tumultuous night of protests in Wisconsin over the death of a black man, was acquitted.
More recently, Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott promised to pardon Daniel Perry, a White Army sergeant who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for fatally shooting a gunman during a Black Lives protest. Matter in 2020 in the state capital, Austin.
Top Republicans have tried to make rising crime rates a political liability for Democrats. The Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee traveled to New York last month – before Neely was killed – for a hearing examining “victims of violent crimes in Manhattan”.
Democrats and racial justice advocates counter that GOP messages about restoring “law and order” play on deep-rooted racism.
“They have a playbook for winning elections that is based on exploiting the worst aspects of human nature and bringing it home with division and fear,” said Jumaane Williams, a Democrat. who is the public attorney for the city of New York. “And, if there’s race and class, then it’s like Christmas for them.”
Neely, known to some commuters as a Michael Jackson impersonator, had a history of mental illness and had been arrested frequently in the past. Passers-by said he yelled at passengers, begged for money and acted aggressively, but did not hit anyone on the train.
Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said GOP presidential candidates see Penny’s cause as a way to energize their party’s base.
“There are very few downsides within the Republican electorate, given that it covers up so well the issues that are incredibly salient among Republican voters in terms of law and order and that fit this narrative on the degeneration of city life,” Borick said. “That’s the message — the message from Trump and his bloc of Republicans — that ‘crazy people’ are a threat, and we need to do what we can to protect ‘Americans’ in every way possible.”
But the GOP’s defense of whites after black deaths is often very different from incidents in which whites are killed. A key example is Ashli Babbitt, the white former Air Force veteran who was shot by a black police officer as he tried to climb through a broken window at the United States Capitol during the uprising of January 6, 2021.
Trump called Babbitt “an innocent, wonderful, amazing woman” and called the black officer who shot her a “thug.” Other Republicans mourned her like a martyr.
Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of Black PAC, said the problem went beyond the presidential race, noting that some Republican-controlled legislatures had taken action after the wave of protests in 2020 against institutional racism and police brutality. , seeking to punish protesters more severely.
Shropshire, whose group works to increase political engagement and voter turnout for African Americans, said the issue reinforces the GOP’s longstanding commitment to “protecting whiteness, which is what it’s all about.” fundamentally”.
As for Democrats, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York tweeted before charges were filed that Neely’s “murderer” was “protected” while “many in power demonize the poor.” New York City Mayor Eric Adams called Neely’s death “a tragedy that should never have happened” but warned against irresponsible statements before all the facts are known.
Rafael Mangual, head of policing and public safety research at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative New York think tank, said the case presented deep legal ambiguity that many people on both sides were unaware of.
“I was very put off by the degree to which politicians on the left called Daniel Penny a murderer and politicians on the right came out and said, ‘This is what we have to do,’ Mangual said. “I don’t don’t want to live in a world where the maintenance of public order is the responsibility of daily executioners.”
There was no such hesitation from Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who called Penny a “hero,” or Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who dubbed Penny a “Subway Superman.” and once offered an internship at Rittenhouse.
Trump, who is running for president for the third time, said this week he had not seen the video, but told The Messenger he believed Penny “was in great danger and other people in the car were in great danger”.
The fact that Penny’s case is being handled by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is leading the prosecution against Trump on charges of paying money to cover up an affair during his 2016 presidential campaign, helps fuel Republican anger.
“We need to defeat Soros-funded prosecutors, stop the left’s pro-crime agenda, and take back the streets for law-abiding citizens,” tweeted DeSantis, who is preparing to announce his 2024 presidential bid, repeating to false claims that billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros orchestrated Trump’s indictment.
“We support good Samaritans like Daniel Penny,” DeSantis wrote, including a link to a fundraising page for Penny. “Let’s show this Marine… America is here for him.”
Former Ambassador Haley told Fox News Channel that New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, should pardon Penny. Ramaswamy donated to Penny’s defense fund through GiveSendGo, a site that also raised money to support insurgents who attacked the Capitol on the day Babbitt was killed. He raised around $2 million in donations for Penny.
At Neely’s funeral on Friday, the Reverend Al Sharpton offered an indirect response to Penny supporters, saying “a good Samaritan helps those who are in trouble, they don’t suffocate them.”
Williams, an ombudsman who can investigate citizen complaints about agencies and services, said prominent Republicans have politically capitalized on racially charged violence since 1988 political ads featuring Willie Horton, a black murderer who raped a white woman on a weekend off from prison. He also noted that many of the people who now contribute to Penny’s defense fund also likely supported cutting social programs that could have benefited people like Neely.
“These people aren’t saying, ‘Let’s play it out, let’s see what happens,'” Williams said. “They immediately make someone a hero who killed someone on a train screaming and screaming they were hungry.”
Associated Press writer Luke Sheridan contributed to this report from New York.
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