Ellen Moynihan, Leonard Greene
New York Daily News
Busker Mark Pickett has a unique perspective on the chokehold death of Jordan Neely, a menacing subway rider who was killed during a clash with Marine veteran Daniel Penny.
Pickett was well acquainted with Neely, a fellow street performer, and he once thwarted a vicious attack on a crowded subway car.
Like Penny, 24, the F train passenger whose chokehold resulted in Neely’s death, Pickett intervened when he saw another passenger in danger.
But unlike Penny, Pickett managed to subdue the troublemaker without anyone getting killed.
“I’m on the fence about arresting this guy,” Pickett said.
Pickett, 57, was on a Bronx-bound No. 1 train in April 2019 when he saw a man pull a hatchet out of a bag and swing it at an unsuspecting passenger. Before the blade connected, Pickett sprang into action and tackled the hatchet man, pinning him to the subway car floor until police arrived.
“Once I got the ax out of his hand and I had him pinned, I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know this guy. He didn’t do nothing to me,’ ” Pickett said Friday.
Penny didn’t know Neely, either, Picket said.
“If you didn’t know him you would think he’s a crazy person on the train,” Pickett said. “There was more to him than that.”
Pickett said Neely, 30, started coming out around Times Square and performing as Michael Jackson after 9/11, and also dancing outside City Hall.
“He used to do sets between the break dance shows,” Pickett said. “He was the special treat.”
But he said Neely had been going downhill since the pandemic, begging for money more often than performing to earn it.
“He would do some Michael Jackson stuff like a spin or do a kick,” Pickett said. “He would do whole songs before.”
Pickett said he saw Neely about an hour before he died Monday. They were in Times Square, and he said Neely was looking distraught.
“He was actually dragging his Michael Jackson jacket on the ground,” Pickett said. “He had the Billie Jean jacket.
“He’s got his hat in his hand and he’s walking, staring off into space. He looked like he didn’t care about the traffic. His T-shirt didn’t look too clean. I didn’t say anything because I had another set to do. I didn’t think he was having emotional problems. I just thought somebody took his bucket of tips.
“Maybe if I had said something to him it would have held him up.”
Pickett also said sometimes it just wasn’t the right moment to talk with Neely because he was focused on channeling the King of Pop.
“We don’t talk like we’re bros because he’s in character,” said Pickett. “And that can hinder his personal emotions because he’s being Michael Jackson. If you’re doing Michael Jackson for like 20 years, where’s room for your psychological relief?”
Pickett said Neely’s death hit street performers hard.
“There’s a place that all the performers are in Times Square on 47th St. Everybody’s talking about him because everybody knew him,” Pickett said. “Everyone is shocked.”
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