In Andrew Yang's World, It's the Mentally Ill Versus Everybody Else

During a debate, the New York City mayoral candidate said, "Mentally ill people have rights, but you know who else has rights? We do!"

In Andrew Yang's World, It's the Mentally Ill Versus Everybody Else
Image:John Minchillo (AP)

Andrew Yang has stepped in it once again.

The former Democratic presidential candidate and current New York City mayoral race contender hit the debate stage Wednesday with seven other hopefuls, discussing New York’s biggest problems. According to Yang, one of the biggest problems are the mentally ill New Yorkers walking around unmedicated, infringing upon the rights of everyone else.

Half the attacks on Asian New Yorkers have been by the mentally ill. They’re walking around, they’re mentally ill, they see someone who’s different, and they lash out. So this is such a crucial issue to return a sense of safety to our city… right now the standard is this: someone has to self select and say, “Yeah, I need help, get me services.” A lot of people who need help don’t have the capacity to raise their hand and say “I need help.” So we have to give people the help they need, even if they don’t know it yet.
And we can do this. There’s been a standard in the past where, if someone was clearly mentally ill or in need of medical attention, we got them on meds, we got them that treatment. We need to rebuild the stock of psych beds so that there’s someplace to bring them, and make sure that, if they are in supportive housing that they’re being monitored so that they take their meds.
Yes, mentally ill people have rights, but you know who else has rights? We do! The people and families of the city. We have the right to walk the streets and not fear for our safety because a mentally ill person is going to lash out at us.

When asked what he would do if the mentally ill subject in question refuses treatment, Yang suggested that they be taken in regardless. It sounds as if Yang wants to bring back the era of forced commitment, a program that often relegated the mentally ill as inherently incapable of making their own decisions and often preyed on women, Black people, the poor, and even political activists. The lack of autonomy was appalling. Mental health services and the lack thereof is an important issue, but it must be approached with appropriate care, one that takes into account the ugly history of forced commitment. That Yang looped this in with racist attacks against Asian-Americans is as alarming as it is beside the point.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the majority of mentally ill people are not violent, and mental illness alone doesn’t increase one’s propensity to violence. Additionally, mentally ill people are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than the general population, and, importantly, more than a quarter of those killed by police every year in the United States are mentally ill. It’s a lot easier for Yang to throw the mentally ill under the bus than to show a sliver of nuance. That he so easily divided those with mental illness and the fine people of New York City is galling.

Plus, given how those with developmental disorders, like autism, are also regarded as dangerous threats—to the point of police shooting them dead in their own homes—one would hope Yang would be more sensitive to broad generalizations against those who are different. He is, after all, the father of a son with autism.

Apparently not. After getting called out for his remarks on Twitter, Yang doubled down.

But perhaps this isn’t too surprising coming from the man who proposed instituting a two-strike rule of sorts against “disruptive” individuals who appear mentally ill. What could go wrong?

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