Tuesday’s mayhem on a crowded Brooklyn N train may prove a turning point for Gotham: Either the city reins in the crazies who are making life hellish for everyday New Yorkers or it watches its residents flee — and its future spiral downward.
The attack was the sum of all New Yorkers’ fears: dozens of riders trapped inside a train car with what appears to be a bottled-up psychopath armed with assorted weapons, who detonates smoke bombs before shooting off 33 rounds, striking 10 and leaving a total of 29 injured.
The suspect, Frank James, is plainly plagued by insufficiently addressed mental-health issues: “Mr. Mayor, I’m a victim of your mental-health program,” he ranted on one his lengthy videos. “I’m 62 now, full of hate, full of anger and full of bitterness.”
And all-too-free to wander the streets and subways of New York terrorizing the rest of us, despite another video in which he mimes shooting in a subway car.
This super-horror merely caps a wave of insanity in the city, particularly in the subway, that’s seen innocent riders pushed to their deaths in front of oncoming trains or fatally knocked down stairs. And that’s been coupled with a truly frightening surge in violent crime.
“I’m done. I’m done with riding the train. It’s just not worth it,” fumes one 29-year-old finance worker, Shirley Shao. “Every time I go [into the subway], I worry in the back of my mind of someone attacking me while my back is turned.”
All too many New Yorkers feel the same — even as the city tries to lure commuters back to their offices to boost the post-pandemic economy.
The good news: Protecting New Yorkers from the dangerous mentally ill and getting those people the help they need are hardly impossible tasks. Yet to do them requires a willingness to force those who are sick to take their meds or to commit them to hospitals when they won’t or when that’s not sufficient. It means having enough hospital beds and staff and supportive-housing services for those living in the community.
The city and state have for too long resisted such approaches, pretending to care more for the rights of the mentally ill. Yes, the state has had Kendra’s Law on the books for years, allowing judges to order “assisted outpatient treatment.” But that law hasn’t been applied nearly well enough, and Albany has resisted improvements.
Last week’s budget agreement did finally make some tweaks to Kendra’s Law and also provided some funding to bring back psychiatric hospital beds and expand outreach services, but it’s far from enough.
The city’s future depends on New York’s leaders committing to getting those with dangerous mental illness into situations where they no longer threaten innocents, period.
If not, expect to see the trains increasingly empty — and New York’s future increasingly grim.
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