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Adams Defends Forced Hospitalizing After Jordan Neely's Subway Death

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said the chokehold killing of a mentally distressed subway rider reinforces the importance of his divisive push to send people who aren’t aware they need treatment to hospitals against their will, Politico reports. “It is time to build a new consensus around what can and must be done for those living with serious mental illness and to take meaningful action despite resistance and pushback from those who misconstrue our intentions,” he said about the May 1 death of Jordan Neely. The incident drew national outrage after former Marine Daniel Penny confronted Neely, who was yelling that he was tired, hungry, and didn’t care if he went to jail or died. Penny locked his arms around Neely’s neck for several minutes. The city’s medical examiner ruled his death a homicide and prosecutors are investigating. Adams said the encounter was a tragic example of what can happen when the government lets someone slip through the social safety net. “I want to say upfront that there were many people who tried to help Jordan get the support he needed,” Adams said. “But the tragic reality of severe mental illness is that some who suffer from it are at times unaware of their own need for care.” Neely was well-known to homeless service providers and even appeared on an internal list of people who were most in need of intervention.

In November, the mayor announced a directive designed to hospitalize people involuntarily who are deemed unable to meet their basic needs because of mental illness. Adams portrayed the policy as more compassionate than letting people live on the streets and avoid treatment. Critics, like the New York Civil Liberties Union, said he was “playing fast and loose with the legal rights of New Yorkers.” In response to his speech Wednesday, the civil liberties group blasted the mayor’s focus on involuntary commitments. “In the name of Jordan Neely, Mayor Adams is again responding to homelessness and unmet mental health need with the failed approaches of force and coercion,” director Donna Lieberman said. “The mayor’s insistence on controlling those in need, instead of taking on the city’s housing crisis or lack of access to health care only fuels stigma against homeless New Yorkers and those living with mental illness.” The mayor argued Neely’s death is case-in-point why the city must move forward with stronger intervention. Adams called on New York state lawmakers to codify some of his policies. He touted the successes of a city task force that has mandated care for individuals with positive outcomes. His plan aligns with the views of Democratic leaders on the West Coast who are using civil commitments as a way to address the intersecting crises of homelessness and mental health while acknowledging voters’ concerns about crime.

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