Outrage over the Big Apple’s mental health crisis has reached critical mass — with lawmakers, first responders, patient advocates and everyday New Yorkers imploring the city to take meaningful action to curb the spiralling violence.
“Have we lost our minds?” Gov. Andrew Cuomo wondered at an unrelated event Saturday in lower Manhattan, in the wake of a rash of rampages by the unhinged and untreated.
Those incidents — all in October — include a mentally ill street peddler who put a cop in a coma Friday at a Brooklyn nail salon, a serial subway menace caught on video shoving a woman headfirst into a train and a Chinatown vagrant who fatally bashed four sleeping homeless men.
“What happened to balance and what happened to common sense?” Cuomo said of the lack of policy and laws protecting subway riders.
Even Mayor Bill de Blasio conceded that a probe into what’s going wrong is called for.
“We need to know more about that for sure,” the mayor said, when asked about the chaos at the Goldmine salon in Brownsville, which left untreated, schizophrenic T-shirt vendor Kwesi Ashun shot dead and a veteran NYPD officer hospitalized.
“Investigation underway,” the mayor said.
But more probes — more city tax dollars spent on task forces, panels and reports— are not what the city needs, critics and reform experts agree.
What the city does need is to refocus the fortune spent on mental health — including the $1 billion over five years dedicated to the ThriveNYC “wellness” program — on New York’s seriously mentally ill, they say.
City first responders should not be the only line of defense against violent crises, they say.
“It you look at all the police involved shootings, we’re seeing almost one a week,” said Ed Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association.
“The mentally ill are not getting any help from the mayor or the city. We throw money, it doesn’t work,” he said. “We need a change. Cops want a change.”
Responders and the public are at risk thanks to “millions wasted on programs” that don’t help the seriously psychotic, agreed Police Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch.
And barely a day goes by when an ambulance worker isn’t assaulted — on Friday, an EMS worker’s nose was broken from a deranged patient’s punch in the Bronx.
“There definitely is an increase in assaults and violence on EMTs and paramedics,” said Vincent Vitale, president of the Uniformed EMS Officers Union. “We keep adding more agencies . . . It’s not going to fix the problem.”
“De Blasio has been a disaster on all this stuff,” agreed mental illness advocate DJ Jaffe, an early critic of ThriveNYC.
The city has 239,000 seriously mentally ill residents, said Jaffe, the head of the city-based Mental Illness Policy Organization.
Of them, 40% — around 93,000 men, women and teens in the throes of serious psychosis, largely schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder — are the crux of the problem, because they are receiving zero treatment.
All of them cycle through three “choke points,” Jaffe said: hospitals, jails and homeless shelters.
And so the city knows these 93,000 untreated, seriously mentally ill New Yorkers by name, including the small, single-digit fraction who are ticking time bombs.
Time bombs like Rodriguez “Randy” Santos, a homeless psychotic blamed for the Oct. 5 bludgeoning deaths of four homeless men in Chinatown.
And like Ashun, 33, by all accounts a striving T-shirt designer whose family struggled to keep him healthy.
Eleven days before police say Ashun argued with cops inside the salon on Mother Gaston Boulevard, his worried schoolteacher sister, Ama Bartley, 35, had summoned one of the city Health Department’s “mobile crisis teams” to evaluate him for potential violence. But after a brief evaluation, health workers left, telling her he was not a threat to himself or others. To her knowledge, there was no follow-through.
“It’s ludicrous to have laws that require violence,” Jaffe said. “Laws should prevent violence.”
Additional reporting by Sara Dorn, Khrisitina Narizhnaya, Georgett Roberts and Rachel Green