The Death of Jordan Neely

Excerpts from Mayor Adams’ speech delivered May 10, 2023

Jordan Neely. Credit: Go Fund Me.

My fellow New Yorkers, this has been a week of strong emotions in our city. One of our own is dead, a Black man, Black like me. A man named Jordan, the name I gave my son. A New Yorker who struggled with tragedy, trauma, and mental illness. A man whose last words were a cry for help. A man named Jordan Neely.

Jordan’s death has devastated his family and shocked his fellow New Yorkers. Today, I’m here to talk about Jordan’s life before he got on that train. The circumstances surrounding his death are still being investigated, and while we have no control over that process, one thing we can control is how our city responds to this tragedy. One thing we can say for sure, Jordan Neely did not deserve to die, and all of us must work together to do more for our brothers and sisters struggling with serious mental illness.

I want to state upfront that there were many people who tried to help Jordan get the support he needed, but the tragic reality of severe mental illness is that some who suffer from it are at times unaware of their own need for care. And all too often, they’re caught up in this cycle of violence, sometimes as perpetrators or, far more often, as victims. In many cases, they resist treatment, walk away from a chance for recovery, and disappear into the shadows. It is the nature of this cruel disease, and it breaks our hearts every time. We will not walk by those in need, step over those who are suffering, or ignore those calls for help. We will respond with care, compassion, and action. We can and must do everything possible to help and heal our brothers and sisters in crisis.

I thought about this subject on the first day I walked into City Hall. I brought it up in my very first conversation with the governor, and I have directed our city government to do all they can to help those who are suffering from serious mental illness.

In March of this year, we released a mental health plan that outlined a comprehensive strategy for treating New Yorkers and preventing the condition that’s so often led to severe mental illness. Our vision is to create a better system that goes beyond one incident or tragedy, a continuum of care that keeps people connected to the support they need to stay well.

Under New York State law, our mobile crisis clinicians can bring people having a mental health crisis to a hospital for medical evaluation, and if physicians find that the person has a mental illness and is dangerous to themselves or others, they have the authority to admit that person and retain them for treatment, even if the person does not agree to it.

Our Coordinated Behavioral Health Taskforce (CBHT) is the guiding force behind this effort, made up of key staff from across city government, our state partners and community-based groups. Their job is to find solutions for those unsheltered New Yorkers who are struggling with mental illness and refusing efforts to connect them with housing and support.

Through the work of the task force…we are helping them stabilize and heal from the ravages of homelessness and long-term untreated psychosis, and most importantly, we are connecting them with supportive housing and all the care and services they will need to succeed when they return to the community. Service providers make repeated attempts to keep those who need help engaged in the programs that are available to them, but there’s no guarantee that those efforts will succeed.

This is the kind of care Jordan needed and that so many were trying to get for him. Over the last several years, Jordan interacted with many city agencies and community-based organizations and providers. He had various encounters with the criminal justice system and was provided services to help him live safely in the community, but those efforts were not enough, and we must find ways to strengthen our system.

Next week, we will bring together the leaders of five organizations who will sit down at City Hall to develop an action plan to ensure accountability when there are missed opportunities to get those in crisis the help they need. We’re also opening this discussion up to other stakeholders, including our faith leaders.

I urge all New Yorkers to do what they can to help others in need by joining up with groups like New York Cares or the Street Homeless Advocacy Project.

We are urging our partners in Albany to act on the legislative agenda that I first announced in November, which we have now put forward as a bill entitled the Supportive Interventions Act. This bill addresses a series of flaws and gaps in the New York State Mental Hygiene Law that are making it more difficult to help those who don’t know they need help. We see this in one heartbreaking case after another. Severe mental illness causes this critical lack of insight so that the only way they can be helped is through intervention.

The Supportive Interventions Act will make it clear that…when mental illness prevents a person from meeting their basic needs to such an extent that they are a danger to themselves, the state has the authority to intervene. The bill would also make it crystal clear to our hospitals that a person should not be released from psychiatric care simply because they have calmed down and appear stable in the moment.

This legislation will also strengthen our successful Kendra’s Law program, ensuring that court-ordered outpatient treatment is reaching all of those caught in the system’s revolving door who need that additional care and monitoring to avoid relapse. I’m proud of the strong support we have received for it from the folks doing this important work in the trenches every day, such as BronxWorks and Project Renewal.

I urge our state lawmakers to pass this bill, and I urge the governor to increase mental health resources in her next budget as she did in this one.

There are more Jordans out there, people who are loved, people in need of compassion, treatment, and protection. Jordan Neely’s life mattered. His death is a tragedy that never should have happened. My heart goes out to Jordan’s family who was suffering great pain and uncertainty about the circumstances of his death. No family should have to suffer a loss like this, and too many Black and brown families bear the brunt of a system long overdue for reform.

Our work starts with acknowledging that we must reverse the effects of decades of disinvestment in housing, healthcare, and social services. We must recommit to our shared civic responsibility to look after each other as a city, as a society, as human beings who care. There were many people who did care about a man named Jordan, but it wasn’t enough this time, and we must keep trying before we lose another Jordan.

One of my most sacred obligations as Mayor is keeping our children safe from harm—and one of the leading risks to their health is nicotine-based products, including cigarettes and e-cigarettes, also known as vapes.