On a serene Saturday afternoon, Daniel Penny, a former Marine, sat calmly under a gazebo in Argyle Park, reminiscing about his past and reflecting on the recent tragedy that had thrust him into the center of a political and racial storm. His first public statements since the fateful incident on the F train on May 1 revealed a composed and soft-spoken individual, eager to share his perspective.
At 24 years old, Penny, dressed in black pants, a blue zip-up jacket, and well-worn Vans, dispelled any notions that race played a role in the unfortunate events. “This had nothing to do with race,” he asserted. As a 30-year-old black man grappling with homelessness and mental illness, Penny emphasized that his character and inner values mattered more to him than superficial labels. His unconditional appreciation for all cultures and individuals was evident, stemming from his countless adventures abroad and his plans for a cross-continental car trip through Africa.
Despite the ongoing legal proceedings and the potential of facing up to 15 years in prison, Penny maintained his composure. When asked about the encounter with Jordan Neely, he explained that the situation was unlike anything he had experienced before. Penny’s lawyer, Thomas Kenniff, supported his claims, asserting that other F train riders would corroborate Penny’s side of the story. According to Kenniff, the menace and horror brought by Neely onto the train were undeniable, witnessed by people from various walks of life who held no vested interest in distorting the truth.
Penny shared that he was on his way to his gym in Manhattan, where he enjoyed swimming in his free time. He expressed admiration for the New York City subway system, considering it the best in the world. Eyewitnesses and footage revealed that Penny restrained Neely by the neck, causing a tragic outcome. The city’s medical examiner concluded that Neely’s cause of death was the result of a chokehold.
Charged with second-degree homicide, Penny was released on a $100,000 bond while his two companions potentially faced their own legal ramifications. Penny’s legal team, led by Steven M. Raiser, maintained that their client did not intend to kill Neely but rather acted in self-defense and in defense of his fellow passengers. However, Neely’s relatives demanded that Penny face murder charges.
When asked about his sentiments towards Neely’s family, Penny expressed genuine sadness and acknowledged the devastating loss of life. He believed that the flawed system had failed everyone involved, emphasizing the need for change. Despite the tragedy, Penny acknowledged that he would act similarly in a situation that posed an immediate risk or threat to himself or others.
Regarding his past, Penny spoke about his upbringing in West Islip, where he cherished his close bond with his three sisters. His parents’ divorce proved challenging, but Penny found solace in the unity and support within his family. Reflecting on his time in the Marine Corps, he described the sense of duty and service that drove him to join. Serving with the 22nd MEU, Penny traveled extensively, experiencing different cultures and developing a deep appreciation for diversity.
Transitioning from military life proved challenging for Penny, who yearned for the thrill of connecting with people. To satiate his desire for adventure, he embarked on a solo road trip that took him through Mexico and Central America, culminating in Nicaragua. Penny recounted both the solitary moments and the encounters with kind and welcoming locals along the way. These experiences solidified his belief that people, regardless of their backgrounds, possess innate warmth and a sense of community.
Penny’s journey also led him to a coffee shop in Antigua, Guatemala, where he felt an overwhelming sense of belonging. This pivotal moment inspired him to pursue a career in architecture, with the aspiration of creating spaces that evoke a feeling of “home” for others. His laid-back demeanor and affinity for the ocean, cultivated through a lifelong passion for surfing, added to his overall character.
Throughout the interview, Penny remained unperturbed by the media attention and criticism directed his way. He attributed his calmness to the teachings of his father and grandfather, who demonstrated an unwavering composure in the face of adversity. Uninterested in social media and the spotlight, Penny preferred to surround himself with loved ones, finding solace in their unwavering support.
As the interview concluded, Penny expressed gratitude for the life he had lived and the opportunities that had come his way. He hoped that despite the tragedy and the failures of the system, change could be achieved. With a genuine heart and unwavering resolve, Penny sought to learn from his past and forge a path that would make a positive impact on the world.