Community Safety and Mental Health
Robert A. Levine, M.D.
The primary responsibility of any government is to provide safety for its citizens from external and internal threats. This obligation came to mind recently with an article in the New York Times Metropolitan Section. A forty year old white woman was walking her dog in Prospect Park in Brooklyn around six in the morning when she was attacked by a Black man with dreadlocks who had been searching through some garbage nearby. She had seen him before muttering to himself or cursing and tried to keep away from him. This time on August 3, he began screaming about immigrants taking over the park and tossed some urine in a container at her and her dog. She tried to run away but her eighty pound golden retriever mixture pulled towards the man in an attempt to protect her.
The man carried a heavy stave and he swung this at the woman but did not significantly injure her. However, he continued to swing the stave and beat the dog severely enough that he perforated his intestine, developed sepsis and subsequently died. The police did not appear to make a vigorous effort to locate the perpetrator and there was an argument on social media over whether they should. Some people said the man was obviously emotionally disturbed, which seems to be true, and should not be incarcerated but should be given psychiatric help instead. It became a racial issue with a number white people asking for him to be apprehended and put in jail or a psychiatric institution, and Blacks and progressives wanting him to remain free and treated as an outpatient. Another white woman recounted that she and her dog had been attacked in a similar fashion likely by the same man three years earlier. A number of people said that they did not want the police involved in this situation, going after a presumably homeless man who was mentally ill. They seemed more concerned with the attacker than with the safety of the community. A vigilante group was almost formed to provide safety in the park but never got off the ground. After two months, the police have still not caught the man who could be labeled as a violent sociopath who attacks women and dogs.
Whether one is white or Black, progressive or moderate, there should be agreement that a violent man who has attacked at least two women and dogs should not be allowed to roam the streets or a city park. This man should be apprehended by the police and locked up either in a psychiatric hospital or in jail, but he should not remain free to engage in violent behavior again. As mentioned previously, government’s primary responsibility is its citizens’ safety, notwithstanding any impingement on individual rights. Whether a person is violent because he or she is mentally ill or from an underprivileged background and lacked proper parental guidance does not matter. We can feel empathy and compassion for a violent sociopath, but he or she must be kept incarcerated as long as necessary to provide maximum safety for the public. This is merely common sense in order for society to function.
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