Recently, there have been two cases of violent, deadly attacks committed in NYC by people known to have a significant history of mental illness accompanied by thoughts/acts of violence. The crimes were committed by Frank R. James and Simon Martial.
Crimes like these often cause the public to question why people with a history of mental illness and violence who have voiced that they will likely commit crimes in the future are not kept in institutions for public safety. There are several reasons for this, but for brevity, let’s focus on two:
1. Civil Rights
2. Insufficient Mental Health Resources
Civil rights laws protect personal freedoms, which is something Americans (myself included) are passionate about. We believe firmly that individual freedoms must not be infringed upon unless there has been sufficient cause to do so. However, many ask, if a person has a history of severe mental illness and are known to be violent, why are they not kept in a mental institution or facility for public safety? Truth is, unless a person is currently at risk to the public, then they cannot be legally held against their will. (The exception, of course, is that they have stood trial, been found guilty, and are serving their sentence.) Additionally, many people with severe mental illness who have been violent in the past are successfully treated, never to be violent again.
Now, onto the matter of insufficient mental health resources- keeping in mind that each state has its own budgets and processes in place to serve those with mental illness. I cannot begin to cover how we, as a nation, have failed the mental health community through poor funding and lack of available resources for those needing care. However, I would like to bring up two interesting facts relevant to the Martial case, as he is a NY resident:
1. According to Mental health America, NY ranks 5th among all states for providing access to MH resources. Ranking the States 2022 | Mental Health America (mhanational.org)
2. NY enacted Kendra’s Law in 1999 which requires people with chronic mental illness who are at high risk for harming themselves or others to adhere to treatment or be (re)admitted involuntarily to an MH facility. Assisted Outpatient Treatment (ny.gov)
Hopefully, as we learn more about Martial, we will find out if and how the NY Mental Health system failed to intervene before it was too late. It appears that NY has excellent funding and access to care, and there is at least one law that mandates treatment. So, what went wrong? Could the murder of Michelle Go have been prevented?
Finally, and most importantly, let’s not forget the innocent and precious lives which were taken during these senseless crimes. Let us all remember the victims and continue to pray for their loved ones in their times of need. My heart goes out to you all.