Contact: Kristine Mikkelsen

New Yorkers to City Council: Mayor Adams’ Directive On Involuntary Removals is Inhumane and Dangerous

New York, NY -- Yesterday, February 7, 2023, the City Council Joint Oversight Hearing on Mental Health Involuntary Removals heard testimony on Mayor Adams’ recent directive that increases the authority of the NYPD to involuntarily detain New Yorkers by expanding the definition of a mental health crisis to someone that is unable to secure food and shelter for themselves. The mayor– whose public approval has continued to slip– announced this directive in December 2022 to a wave of public outcry. 

Families of New Yorkers killed by the NYPD, along with Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) members and partner organizations delivered testimony at the City Council hearing yesterday afternoon. Among those that testified were Eric Vassell, father of Saheed Vassell (killed by NYPD in 2018); Ellen Trawick, mother of Kawaski Trawick (killed by NYPD in 2019), Brooklyn Movement Center, Justice Committee, VOCAL NY, Drug Policy Alliance, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, NYCLU, Legal Aid Society, Bronx Defenders and other CPR partners. Click here to read full testimonies.

Of the directive, CPR spokesperson Keli Young (she/her) with VOCAL NY commented, “New Yorkers have a right to know how this directive is being rolled out including how the NYPD is carrying out this new mandate from the Mayor. Police and law enforcement already target the city’s most vulnerable communities, and this new directive further promotes this systemic, discriminatory practice by targeting homeless New Yorkers. We demand to know who the NYPD is detaining, on what grounds, how long our neighbors are being detained, and if they are getting any meaningful care or support or just being criminalized. The public has absolutely no insight into how the mayor is implementing this dangerous directive, and we all know that without transparency, there can be no accountability.”

This is not a plan. It is giving the NYPD more power to sweep people off the street just because officers think they don’t have a place to stay or have a mental illness. I watched the City’s healthcare system fail my son long before the NYPD killed him. The police and EMS would take him to the hospital but instead of helping, they just gave him a whole lot of pills and locked him down. For Saheed – being in the hospital was like being in prison,”  Eric Vassel (he/him), Father of Saheed Vassell who was killed by the NYPD on April 4, 2018 and member of the Justice Committee testified.

“Increasing the use of law enforcement to forcibly detain New Yorkers is not only inhumane but it undermines public safety and puts vulnerable New Yorkers in harm’s way,” said Loyda Colon (they/them), Executive Director of  Justice Committee. “The NYPD has a long track record of violence and abuse that has repeatedly turned deadly when responding to people perceived to be experiencing a mental health crisis. As the NYPD killings of Iman Morales (2008), Mohamed Bah (2012), Saheed Vassell (2018), Deborah Danner (2016), Kawaski Trawick (2019) and too many others demonstrate, police have no business addressing mental illness or people who are unhoused. Mayor Adams’ policy must immediately end to prevent any future community traumatization.”

“Sending the NYPD to respond to people who are struggling with mental health issues has already cost so many NYers their lives, including my son. Mayor Adams’s {mental health} directive will only lead to more brutality,” said Ellen Trawick (she/her), Mother of Kawaski Trawick, killed by NYPD in 2019 and member of the Justice Committee.

“Despite his rhetoric of care and compassion, the mayor is putting money, time, and resources into policing and criminalization. All the while he is cutting millions from the budgets of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Housing and Community Development,” reflected Salma Allam (she/hers), Coalition Organizer at the Arab American Association of New York and member of CPR.The mayor is abandoning and criminalizing people who deserve services and support.”

Click here to read the full testimonies.

“We’re not going to train cops out of being cops. This plan is an attack on Black mental health at a time when we need to be rebuilding crisis infrastructure. We deserve a new vision for supporting New Yorkers through crisis that honors our dignity and moves people in need from the streets into stability. Mayor Adams’ Giuliani-era policies will only give the same results we’ve already gotten: long-term psychiatric incarceration with no pathway to wellness,” testified Anthonine Pierre (she/her), Executive Director of Brooklyn Movement Center.

"The NYPD should be completely removed from responding to people with mental illness and from responding to people with autism,” testified Justice Committee member Christine Henson (she/her), whose son, Andrew, has autism and limited speech abilities. In 2018, Andrew was assaulted by the NYPD. “There is no amount of training that will prepare NYPD officers to respond to people like my son. The purpose of the NYPD is to arrest and criminalize people, not care for them. Intro 273 may be good intentioned, but it will only teach officers how to better criminalize and manipulate people with autism,” she continued.

“Coercive mental health treatment is a form of carceral institutionalization that further exacerbates the health and trauma of those on the street. The answer according to DECADES of research has and will always be HOUSING FIRST. Why do we continue to ignore decades of evidence-based, empirical data that tells us housing is, in fact, mental, physical and emotional healthcare,” testified Celina Trowell, VOCAL-NY’s Homelessness Union.

“The Drug Policy Alliance opposes Mayor Adams’ directive, which is likely to punish people for substance use and perpetuate stigma. Police are the front line of criminalization, not public health, and police interactions cause instability and harm to health, which this directive purports to address. Forced treatment is not effective to address root causes of instability and unwellness. For people who have a substance use disorder, being forcibly removed and hospitalized can lead to painful and sometimes life-threatening withdrawal symptoms and place them at increased risk of overdose death. We need more low-barrier, human-centered, voluntary care and supportive housing,” said Toni Smith, Director of New York Office, Drug Policy Alliance.

“Black and Latine-identifying people of color in the Bronx have suffered decades of over policing, surveillance, and other racially discriminatory violent practices by law enforcement agents. Rather than committing to addressing the unmet needs of New Yorkers who are unhoused or at risk of being unhoused, this directive sets a dangerous precedent for public safety while reinforcing such historic discriminatory measures,” stated Siya Hegde, Policy Counsel, Civil Action Practice, Bronx Defenders

“With the NYC Mental Health Involuntary Removals Policy the Adams Administration is playing fast and loose with the legal rights of New Yorkers and is not dedicating the resources necessary to address the mental health crises that affect our communities…Forcing people into treatment is a failed strategy for connecting people to long-term treatment and care. Unless we adequately invest in the long-term health and well-being of New Yorkers facing mental illness and our chronic lack of housing, the current mental health crisis will continue. The decades-old practice of sweeping deep-seated problems out of public view may play well for the politicians, but the problems will persist – for vulnerable people in desperate need of government services and for all New Yorkers,” testified Beth Haroules, Director of Disability Justice Litigation, New York Civil Liberties Union.

“The Mayor’s uncompassionate directive to scale-up involuntary law enforcement driven responses to New Yorkers with unmet mental health needs who struggle to survive on our streets and subways will be disproportionately applied to Black, Latinx, immigrant, LGBTQI people, and other communities of color who often over diagnoses and underserved.   We must stop treating mental illness and substance use disorder among low-income New Yorkers as criminal justice rather than public health issues and instead adopt harm reduction, community-peer led practice, and stable housing.  We need city council support to secure sites for stabilization and safe -haven beds throughout New York City and necessary to engage in behavioral health care, including private rooms as part of access. Yes, to innovative caring models over politics,” stated Anthony Feliciano, Vice President for Community Mobilization at Housing Works. 

“While Mayor Adams has billed this as a mental health directive, it is clear who the intended targets are: the city’s street homeless. Similar to the City's barrage of sweeps, these forced hospitalizations are another part of his plans to police our homeless neighbors out of sight without properly addressing their material needs or providing stable, permanent housing,” testified Karim Walker with the Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center

"As physicians who swore an oath to do no harm and as New Yorkers who care deeply about our community, members of the Committee of Interns and Residents were outraged when Mayor Adams announced his Mental Health Involuntary Removals Directive. Among its many, many problems, this directive will effectively make our hospitals, which should be places of refuge, an extension of the carceral system, undermining the crucial trust we need to build with patients in order to provide real care," stated Committee of Interns and Residents.

“Mental health care is indeed inaccessible in NYC. Individuals experiencing severe mental illness face numerous systemic barriers to care, including: a paucity of non-carceral providers, financial barriers to outpatient care, limited peer-led community resources, and closures of psychiatric hospital beds. However, involuntary transportation to emergency departments (ED) for evaluation does not address the sources of these barriers to mental health care. Coercive care is ineffective, fragmented and increases risk of harm and trauma. The Mayor’s plan misdirects resources and will further overwhelm EDs, Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Programs and scarce inpatient psychiatric beds, rather than increase access to desperately needed resources and care,”  testified the New York Doctors Coalition

About Communities United for Police Reform

Communities United for Police Reform (CPR) is an unprecedented campaign to end discriminatory policing practices in New York, and to build a lasting movement that promotes public safety and reduces reliance on policing. CPR runs coalitions of over 200 local, statewide and national organizations, bringing together a movement of community members, lawyers, researchers and activists to work for change. The partners in this campaign come from all 5 boroughs, from all walks of life and represent many of those most unfairly targeted by the NYPD.

Topics: NYC Budget Justice