Yang catches heat for ‘mentally ill’ comments in NYC mayoral debate

“Yes, mentally ill people have rights but you know who else has rights? We do. The people and families of the city have the right to walk the street and not fear for our safety because a mentally ill person is going to lash out.”

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Former presidential candidate and current New York City mayor hopeful Andrew Yang faces public scorn following a comment he made about those struggling with mental health.

During Wednesday’s mayoral debate, the 42-year-old start-up executive said he would increase the number of psychiatric care beds to deal with the city’s homelessness crisis, the Daily Beast reports. 

Yang began with an anecdote about an acquaintance of his wife, Evelyn Yang, who was recently attacked by a homeless man and went on to say that similar incidents are happening all over the city. 

“This is happening in New York City, and we’re not talking enough about it. Families are leaving as a result…We owe our people and our families better than this, and I’m frustrated by the political nature of these responses,” said Yang.

“Yes, mentally ill people have rights, but you know who else has rights? We do. The people and families of the city have the right to walk the street and not fear for our safety because a mentally ill person is going to lash out,” Yang added.

Andrew Yang
Andrew Yang (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The blundering comment led to some exasperated responses on stage.

“You can’t say, ‘Psych beds for all’… That is the greatest non-answer I’ve ever heard in all of our debates. Not one specific idea,” NYC comptroller and mayoral candidate, Scott Stringer said in response. 

People have reacted to Yang’s comment online, with many blasting it as ableist and zeroing in on the stigmatizing distinction between NYC residents and residents who are unhoused, mentally ill, or both. 

“Andrew Yang elegantly lets us know that he thinks people with mental illness are not the city, not “us” and that “we” the wholesome families rights are being forgotten, while the police who endorsed him murder and kidnap mentally ill people every day,” activist and podcast host Rafael Shimunov wrote on Wednesday. 

“Andrew Yang is horrible. His ableism is repulsive and should disqualify him from leading New York City,” author Frederick Joseph tweeted. 

“As a person with fairly serious mental illness, I cannot stop thinking about the immense harm of what @AndrewYang said last night. Homeless New Yorkers living with mental illness (who, might I add, are disproportionately Black and brown) deserve dignity, not more violence,” commented another Twitter user.

“Mentally ill people are 2.5 times more likely to be the VICTIM of violent crime than the general public,” health care advocate and writer Kendall Youens pointed out. “But rather than protect a marginalized community, Andrew Yang is making attacking disabled ppl a cornerstone of his entire campaign.” 

Wednesday’s Democratic mayoral debate was the last of the election season; the 2021 New York City primary election is on June 22.

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