‘Outrageous’ Video Shows Police Handcuffing Homeless Woman In Queens Subway Station
A video of NYPD officers handcuffing a homeless woman is fueling outrage among some New Yorkers, amid ongoing scrutiny into an MTA crackdown on homelessness and quality of life issues inside the subway.
Footage posted to Twitter by Narvin Singh on Friday shows two NYPD officers pinning the woman on her back near the fare gates of the Jamaica Center subway station in Queens. The cops then flip her over and place her in handcuffs, forcefully restraining her as she attempts to wrangle free.
“That’s not right,” the person filming shouts. “They can have someone come and talk to her, they don’t need to fucking put her on the ground and lie on her and handcuff her.”
A woman who identifies herself as a mental health professional assures the bystander that police are not arresting the woman, but rather “trying to get her help.” Dr. Mitchell Katz, the CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, the city’s public hospital and clinic program, can also be heard explaining that the woman will be transported to a hospital and treated for mental illness.
According to Shelly Nortz, the deputy executive director for policy at Coalition for the Homeless, the video depicts a “completely unacceptable” use of force against a homeless woman.
“This conduct is dehumanizing and traumatizing for a person who has obviously already endured too much trauma in her life,” Nortz said in a statement. “This is NOT how the police should be deployed to effect involuntary transport for psychiatric evaluation. If someone is experiencing psychiatric crisis, it should be treated as a health issue and the response must be led by medical professionals rather than police.”
A spokesperson for the NYPD did not respond to inquiries about the interaction. As the video began spreading online, the Mayor’s Office circulated a statement attributed to Dr. Katz. It reads:
“I cannot make any comment about a specific patient. But I can assure you that this woman was not arrested or charged with any crime. As required by law, we always respect the privacy of individuals. However, as New Yorkers, we can agree that we are a compassionate city, and that there are people in our midst who need help. Some people who are suffering from mental illness, and due to their mental illness, do not always wish to seek care, even when they are a danger to themselves or others. However, in clinical circumstances, where someone’s mental illness is severe, the right thing to do is to bring them to a hospital so they can be appropriately evaluated and cared for.
Ideally, people would voluntarily accept care, but often enough this does not occur. That doesn’t mean that our responsibility ends to just leave people uncared for. I was present today because I feel that it our obligation to do everything we can to get people to accept care. Under the roof of my hospital system, we can treat serious mental illness and lead people to a better life.”
The forceful apprehension follows Governor Andrew Cuomo‘s directive to the MTA to “measurably reduce homelessness and panhandlers on the subway.” As part of that effort, the agency plans to hire 500 additional MTA police officers primarily focused on “homeless outreach mitigation” and fare evasion.
Hundreds of new NYPD and MTA officers have already been deployed throughout the transit system to crack down on quality of life issues. Earlier this month, police officers were caught on video forcing a man from an L train, after he allegedly fell asleep on a subway bench.
Homeless advocates say the current approach to those seeking shelter in the transit system only serves to further criminalize and harass vulnerable New Yorkers.
“It’s fucking outrageous,” Paulette Soltani, the political director at VOCAL-NY, told Gothamist on Friday. “How is it so hard for our governor and our mayor to understand that the help people need is housing and health care services? The public servants who are going to help them get those thing are not the police.”
Neither the Mayor’s Office nor the Governor’s Office immediately responded to Gothamist inquiries.