NYAPRS Note: Five people were injured in NYC yesterday as a person wielding a pair of scissors slashed and stabbed individuals, apparently at random, in Riverside Park. Without any information regarding the suspect’s history in the mental health system, media outlets jumped to explicitly or implicitly indict the man as mentally ill and published incendiary comments about his supposed mental state . Tragedies such as this that involve seemingly senseless acts elicit reactions of fear that often serve only to criminalize and isolate communities of people. We must seek to understand how our communities can work together to prevent such tragic events, and advocate for a broader, proactive response that includes public safety officials, community providers and safety net services, as well as the media. NYAPRS will continue to work with our partners to advocate for the type of system that can prevent these tragedies through outreach and engagement. Please see the NYAPRS response to current media releases regarding the incident:
Our community is horrified by recent events in Riverside Park and our hearts go out to the victims. These events resonate with us particularly because, as research indicates, people from our community are eleven times more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it.
We have to look carefully at the early reactions that often arise with limited information in the wake of events like this. From what we know, Mr. Graham had been in NYC for perhaps a year and may not have touched the mental health system at all. If there was no history of utilization in a NY hospital, what this event highlights is not that we need more hospital beds, but rather greater outreach and engagement into the community.
That is why NYAPRS has continued to support two vital systemic changes; one that overhauls the entire behavioral health system at the behest of the Governor through Medicaid Redesign, which emphasizes services that get ahead of unmet needs in the community rather than waiting for tragedy and trauma to occur. A reactive system is one that continues to unfairly criminalize a population of persons with mental health treatment needs. A proactive system is being implemented through Medicaid Redesign: Health Homes that help consumers navigate physical and behavioral health care to prevent hospitalization and costly emergencies, funding for discharge navigation and outpatient service connections from safety net hospitals, and initiatives to support stable housing and crisis diversion.
Preventative services forming a network of first-responders across shelters, detox systems, emergency rooms and community advocates is far more appropriate than ramping up the warehouses of the past. Institutions aren’t systems of preventive care, they are systems of isolation; when tragedy happens, psychiatric hospitals provide too little, too late.
This most recent incident highlights the need for an increased presence of recovery advocates to stand up for mental health and crisis awareness. Last week community organizers from across NY called upon our city system to implement Crisis Intervention Teams at a City Hall press conference. CITs would train the NYPD to intervene appropriately when a call is made for an emotionally disturbed person, and could include a team of trained professionals to deescalate tension and fear in these interventions for the benefit of public safety. NYAPRS supports this vital opportunity for the NYPD to seize CITs as a valuable resource and to mitigate future tragic events.