Archives of Rudolph W. Giuliani

Mayor's WINS Address
Sunday, November 21, 1999

Hear the Mayor's Message

Treating the Mentally Ill-and Keeping the Streets Safe for All New Yorkers
by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani

New Yorkers are praying for the recovery of Nicole Barrett, the young woman who was attacked on the street by a stranger with a brick. It's a terrible tragedy, and one that rightfully has people all across the city concerned.

Most of the concern has been focused on the presumption, at this point, that Nicole Barrett's attacker is mentally ill-a fact that will not be confirmed until the police actually catch him.

But the attack does raise many important and urgent questions. But before I discuss those, I want to say that it's very important for New Yorkers to have a sense of perspective-because all too often, in reacting to shocking incidents, people get caught up in fear and hysteria and forget to consider the facts reasonably.

To begin with, New York City is the safest large city in America, and this year we are once again experiencing a substantial decline-of about 10 percent-in violent crime.

And second of all, as horrible as this tragedy is, it's important not to overreact to it by distorting or unfairly characterizing mentally ill people. The vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent, and with treatment can have productive, peaceful, independent lives. Very few mentally ill people cause any danger to others. That's a critically important point, because too many people are quick to paint the mentally ill with a broad brush.

That said, we should also be careful not to go so far in the other direction that we romanticize severe mental illness or all homelessness, which at times does, in fact, result in people being violent. The streets of our city and other civilized cities are not places for people to sleep. If they do try to sleep in the streets of the city, they're indicating that they have serious problems, problems that should result in their being removed - not being ignored - so we can deal with the problems.

When America de-institutionalized the mental hospitals because they were ineffective and in many cases inhumane, it did not, throughout this country, build up community-based services that could treat people with serious mental problems. De-institutionalization cut too many mentally ill people loose without giving society the tools or the funding to treat them correctly.

By signing Kendra's Law, Governor Pataki has begun to change that. But the funding for mental health services required by Kendra's Law will not arrive for many months, so the City of New York is immediately spending its own money to expand its network of mental health services in an intelligent and accountable way. That's the most sensible and humane solution for everyone. This is Rudy Giuliani.

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