More about Heroism

At the beginning of this month, Jordan Neely, a homeless man, entered a New York subway car and began both speaking and acting in a threatening manner to the other passengers. According to the police report, Neely was acting in a “hostile and erratic” manner while shouting threats that he would hurt people. He also said something about “going to jail or getting life in prison.” Perhaps most ominously, Neely said he was “ready to die.” Marine veteran Daniel Penny stepped in, attempting to subdue Neely by putting him in a chokehold for about fifteen minutes; once Neely stopped struggling, Penny put him in the recovery position. However, Neely was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Initially, it seemed that might be the end of it, but the following week, Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg gave in to mob pressure (including people standing on subway tracks) and charged Penny with manslaughter. Leftist activists, including several in the media, have called Penny a “vigilante.” As so often seems to be the case with the homeless, no one seemed to care about Neely in life, but so many have jumped on the Jordan Neely bandwagon to exploit his death.

Thankfully, there has been an outpouring of support for the heroic Penny, including financially, to the tune of more than two million dollars for his defense fund. Many others have expressed their thanks to Penny: “I would’ve wanted you on the subway if I was there. You are a very brave man,” one donor wrote. Another wrote, “I would only hope that if my husband wasn’t with me and someone was threatening me, someone would help me as well. Thank you sir. May God be with you and your family during your time of need. My prayers are also with you.”

Daniel Penny didn’t know this about Jordan Neely at the time, but Neely had been arrested forty-two times, including multiple times for assault. Like many homeless people, he suffered from mental illness. This is not to say that Neely’s life didn’t matter; of course it did. It does, however, give some context to his death. Mentally ill or not, each of us is responsible for our words and actions.

Ultimately, the charges against Penny may very well be dropped. If this case were to ever go to trial, I believe he would be acquitted; hopefully, it won’t come to that. Regardless, cases like this are going to continue to have a chilling effect on potential heroes stepping up in situations where others are being threatened, or even attacked. Why would someone be willing to risk his life, given the threat of losing his freedom even if he is successful in protecting the safety, and possibly life, of a potential victim?

On a related note: Back in 2009, before my son went off to college, I had a conversation with him related to the mass shooting at Virginia Tech two years before. I asked him what he would do if a gunman entered his classroom, and although our responses to that situation were different, it was a rich conversation. Just a couple years ago, he wanted to talk about that kind of situation again, and my heart swelled with pride when he indicated that he would rush the gunman if the opportunity presented itself.

With the ever-increasing prevalence of mass shootings, I have thought about what I would do if a gunman entered my church. I have wavered between at least three options: covering my wife with my body; throwing a chair at the gunman; or grabbing a mike and commanding him to stop in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I suppose my response would depend in part on where the gunman and I were in relation to each other. Lord willing, one thing I would not do is cower. However, part of me wonders whether I would be arrested if I hurt the gunman. Seriously!

2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV) says, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” I like the way the New King James Version puts it even better: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” We can never know for sure how we will react in dangerous situations, but if we are prepared, it is more likely that we will respond the way we want to rather than being frozen in fear. Because of Daniel Penny’s military training, he knew how to respond to the threat posed by Jordan Neely; I want to be ready as well for whatever situation I may find myself in.

You’re probably thinking that it’s unlikely you will ever be faced with someone who is acting threateningly, or with some other imminently dangerous situation. I would say you’re probably right. However, I believe this kind of mental and spiritual preparedness can also make us ready to step in to help in other, more ordinary, less risky situations. For example, have you ever had the pleasure of changing a tire for someone? I have, a couple of times. These days, for various reasons, it seems that this skill is one that many people don’t possess, at least in my area. Or how about jump-starting someone’s vehicle? Maybe you can clean out the gutters of your elderly neighbor. These actions may not seem very “heroic,” but they can have a profound effect on the person you help.

(A while back, I wrote another post about heroism; take a look if you’re interested:

3 thoughts on “More about Heroism

  1. It really is madness that there would be an issue at all around Daniel Penny. Thank God for brave people like him in the world willing to lay their lives down! And I agree that seemingly small acts of service are heroic in God’s eyes. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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