NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The recent rash of violent attacks in the city is raising questions about mental illness and crime.
Brandon Elliot, the homeless parolee accused of a brutal anti-Asian hate crime against a 65-year-old woman in Hell’s Kitchen, sparked a conversation.
“Outside the criminal justice response, what’s the right response for how we prevent this from happening again?” Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal said.
“Hate is not a mental illness and we need to think about the societal, city response to these issues,” added Dr. Myla Harrison, the assistant commissioner of the city’s Department of Mental Health and Hygiene.
According to the NYPD, mental health does factor into the recent rash of violent attacks.
“There’s a process in place to hold people accountable. If they can’t be held accountable because they have mental illness, then let’s get them the treatment they need,” NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said.
The city’s top mental health leaders outlined existing programs available to officers and others to refer people to get the help they need, outside of the criminal justice system.
But no one explained if it’s even working.
“There is now a behavioral health unit in the Police Department. They can call the unit. They can talk to the unit about particular issues that they have,” said Susan Herman, director of Thrive NYC.
Meanwhile, victims have been left traumatized. Community advocates are urging the city to do more.
“When you consider the racial trauma of being attacked on a daily basis, Asian New Yorkers are facing a public health crisis within a public health crisis,” said Joo Han of the Asian American Federation.
But according to the Committee on Mental Health, Disability & Addictions, more than a dozen communities of color are considered “mental health deserts.”
“If you are a person of color in New York City, it is extremely difficult to find affordable, comprehensive, immediate, culturally competent and accessible mental health care,” said the committee’s Farah Louis said.
Help is hard to find, during a time when it’s needed the most.
According to city health officials, many of the neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19 are also the ones where mental health is the least accessible.
For help, you can call 1-888 NYCWELL to connect with a mental health professional.