Most New Yorkers, essential workers excepted, abandoned the subways in March, fearing dank underground air and enclosed cars were spreading COVID. But by September, scientists knew enough to say mass transit posed fewer dangers than initially suspected, clearing the path for the MTA to beckon riders back, masked and safely distanced, to cleaner cars.

A fresh scourge now threatens riders’ underground safety: three separate terrifying attacks in just the last week on innocent straphangers, shoved onto tracks by people showing signs of serious mental or emotional disturbance.

Yet the city’s still too rarely using one of the tools most effective at getting help for those who need but resist psychological help.

Kendra’s Law allows judges to compel someone who presents a danger to themselves or others to get treatment or take medication. Named after Kendra Webdale, who in 1999 was killed precisely as New Yorkers these days are being endangered: A man with untreated schizophrenia pushed her in front of a train.

Only 1,485 people are currently getting help under the law in NYC, roughly the same number as a year ago. That is despite more than 178,000 calls to 911 reporting emotionally disturbed people in 2018, more than double the amount a decade earlier, and despite Mayor de Blasio’s pledge in late 2019 to step up Kendra’s Law applications to courts as part of a review of the city’s management of its seriously mentally ill population.

But the burden isn’t just on the city. State policy changes in recent decades that triggered the decommissioning of psychiatric beds in New York hospitals have left fewer places for people who need care to get it.

To city and state leaders: Use Kendra’s Law. Better reimburse psychiatric care. Add more hospital beds. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.


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