Public Safety Hearing Testimony: Oversight on Mental Health Involuntary Removals & Mayor Adams' Recently Announced Directive

Rabbi Joshua Stanton
February 6th, 2023

Good morning, Chair Hanks, Chair Lee, Chair Narcisse, Chair Ariola, and Council Members.

I am Rabbi Joshua Stanton, speaking on behalf of Tirdof: New York Jewish Clergy for Justice, a joint program of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and Jews For Racial & Economic Justice (JFREJ), the latter of which is a member of Communities United for Police Reform. I am testifying today to express my deep concern about Mayor Adams’ involuntary removal directive.

Throughout the centuries, Jewish tradition has both acknowledged mental health as a human need, and urged us to assist those struggling to find treatment and solace, not in isolation but within a communal context. Removing individuals in psychiatric distress who are not a danger to themselves or others from their neighborhoods or public spaces further isolates and stigmatizes these New Yorkers. It denies them the community contact necessary for each person to thrive.

I agree with Mayor Adams that we must find solutions to the crisis facing unhoused New Yorkers suffering from mental illness. But instead of investing in genuine care and compassion, the Mayor’s directive proposes additional police encounters, which hold the potential to become violent. Given the NYPD significantly more scope and authority to detain people is playing fast and loose with the legal rights of New Yorkers – especially given the NYPD’s troubling track record with individuals experiencing, or perceived to be experiencing, a mental health crisis.

Jewish tradition urges us to care for our neighbors, especially when they are in trouble – and irrespective of cost. We learn from the 16th Century legal text, the Shulchan Aruch [Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Siman 184:8], “If you see that your neighbor is in trouble, and you are able to save him, or to hire others to save him, you are obliged to trouble yourself or to hire others to save him…. You may not shirk your duty because of this, and you must save her at your own expense [if she is not able to pay]. If you refuse to do so, you are guilty of transgressing the negative command, "Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed..."

I know the members of this committee and of the entire city council do not want to be the people who stand idly by while our neighbor’s blood is shed, or our neighbor is in deep distress.

I urge the council to reject the Mayor’s directive and instead invest in genuine care and compassion, which means housing, mental health services, and social supports. Unless the City of New York adequately invests in the long-term health and well-being of New Yorkers and affordable housing, our mental health crisis will continue.