NYC rally supporting chokehold suspect Daniel Penny, organized by Nassau Executive Bruce Blakeman, disrupted by counter-demonstrators
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman rallied in Manhattan on Wednesday to support a Marine Corps veteran from Suffolk County who was arrested by the NYPD on a charge of fatally choking a menacing homeless man aboard a New York City subway train May 1 in Chinatown.
Blakeman's rally, at Collect Pond Park, was attended by dozens of military veterans — some of whom came by yellow school bus — and was picketed by counter-demonstrators, one of whom heckled him as a racist who should "go back to Long Island."
At one point, at least two of the counter-demonstrators were forced to the ground by police or court officers and arrested. An NYPD spokeswoman said that there were arrests but that the details weren’t yet available.
Blakeman, speaking behind a Nassau County lectern as county personnel helped with the sound system, logistics and publicity, said he backs the actions of Daniel Penny — the 24-year-old veteran accused of manslaughter in the death of Jordan Neely, 30.
"That was not vigilante action," Blakeman said of Neely. "That was a good Samaritan.”
Blakeman said that he opposes the prosecution of Penny and that he's worried about Nassau residents who travel to the city every day.
"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."
Penny was seen on a bystander's cellphone video holding Neely, a homeless man who was once a Michael Jackson impersonator, in the crook of his arm for several minutes, including after Neely stopped moving.
Asked about a prosecutor's statement at Penny's arraignment — that some witnesses on the train said Neely had been threatening and scaring passengers — counter-demonstrator Karla Reyes of Harlem said Penny is a vigilante who committed a crime. Passengers could avoid eye contact or switch cars, she said.
"I think that every single one of us here who has ridden the subways has felt that fear," she said. "We've all been there. Every single one of us. Yet no one here has killed someone for it."
Blakeman’s rally was disrupted several times by the counter-demonstrators, who held signs and chanted from elsewhere in the park, which was across from the court where Penny was arraigned this month, and nearby Leonard Street.
When news photographers appeared to be paying more attention to the counter-demonstrators, Blakeman spokesman Chris Boyle shouted at several standing on a park bench: “Are you guys here for the press conference or are you here for that?”