[Marxism] Mental illness, not "Islamophobia"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 31 00:26:03 MST 2012

NY Times December 30, 2012
Troubled Past for Suspect in Fatal Subway Push

Long before Erika Menendez was charged with pushing a stranger to his 
death under an oncoming train at a Queens elevated station, she had 
years of contact with New York City’s mental health and law enforcement 
establishments. She was treated by the psychiatric staffs of at least 
two city hospitals, and caseworkers visited her family home in Queens to 
provide further help. She was also arrested at least three times, 
according to the police, twice after violent confrontations.

Ms. Menendez’s years of inner and outer turmoil culminated in the deadly 
assault on an unsuspecting man who was waiting for a train on Thursday. 
Beyond stirring fear among riders on crowded platforms across the city, 
the attack also raised new questions about the safeguards in a patchwork 
private and public mental health system that is supposed to allow 
mentally ill people to live as freely as possible in the community while 
protecting them and the public.

A similar attack more than a decade ago led to a law aimed at forcing 
mentally ill people with a history of violence to undergo treatment, but 
it is widely acknowledged to cover only a small portion of those who 
need help.

D. J. Jaffe, the executive director of the Mental Illness Policy 
Organization, an advocacy group, said that thousands of troubled 
individuals with violent histories were released from mental health 
facilities, and that beyond requiring that they have a home to go to and 
an outpatient care plan in place, there was little oversight of their 

“No one monitors if they are taking their medication,” Mr. Jaffe said. 
“Or follows up to see if they are a danger to themselves or others.”

The case of Ms. Menendez, 31, puts renewed attention on a mental health 
system that is a loose amalgam of hospitals, supported housing, shelters 
and other advocacy and support groups, in which mentally ill people 
often bounce from one to the other and ultimately fall through the 
cracks. It is not known precisely where she fit in.

City officials said it would be misleading to conclude that anyone was 
at fault in her treatment.

“People get well and then they get sick again,” Ana Marengo, a 
spokeswoman for the city’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs 
Bellevue and Elmhurst Hospital Centers, said Sunday. Ms. Menendez had 
been treated at both hospitals, according to friends and law enforcement 

Ms. Marengo declined to confirm or deny whether Ms. Menendez had been 
treated at either hospital, citing confidentiality rules, but said that 
patients who were treated at city hospitals often were discharged into 
the care of outpatient mental health providers.

There were ample warnings over the years concerning Ms. Menendez.

In 2003, according to the police, she attacked another stranger, Daniel 
Conlisk, a retired firefighter, as he took out his garbage in Queens.

“I was covered with blood,” Mr. Conlisk recalled on Sunday. “She was 
screaming the whole time.”

Just two months earlier, Ms. Menendez was accused of hitting and 
scratching another man in Queens. She was also arrested on cocaine 
possession charges the same year.

Since then, according to friends and people familiar with her record, 
she has been cared for at mental health facilities in Manhattan and 
Queens as her problems worsened.

Between 2005 and February this year, the police responded five times to 
calls from relatives reporting difficulties in dealing with Ms. 
Menendez, reportedly stemming from her failure to take certain 
medication, according to a law enforcement official who was not 
authorized to speak publicly about her medical history. In one of these 
instances, in 2010, she threw a radio at one of the responding officers, 
the official said.

“She has been in and out of institutions,” another law enforcement 
official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Within the past year, she was discharged from Bellevue, according to a 
person with knowledge of her medical history.

An attendant at the psychiatric ward at Elmhurst Hospital Center 
declined to go into detail about Ms. Menendez’s treatment there, but 
said that “all I can tell you is we know her very well.”

Ms. Menendez is being charged with murder as a hate crime and, if 
convicted, faces a possible sentence of life in prison.

For prosecutors, the decision to charge her with a hate crime was based 
on statements she gave to the police after her arrest on Saturday, when 
she claimed she attacked the victim, Sunando Sen, 46, because she hated 
Muslims and Hindus. Mr. Sen was born in India and, according to a 
roommate, was raised Hindu.

A family friend who identified himself only as Mike said Ms. Menendez 
was not a racist. But he acknowledged her troubled mental history and 
calls to the police regarding her behavior. He said she was supposed to 
be monitored as part of an outpatient program for the mentally ill run 
by Elmhurst.

“We had someone come to the house, spend six minutes, asked how she was 
doing, giving medication,” he said by telephone. “I used to tell them, 
‘Listen, she’s not home.’ And then they would come back the next week. 
They’d leave you the medication and come back in the next week.”

The exact nature of what Ms. Menendez was being treated for could not be 
learned. It was also unclear if she was currently on medication or had 
lapsed in her treatment.

When she was arraigned on Saturday night, the judge ordered that she be 
held without bail and undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

The attack, which occurred at the 40th Street-Lowery Street station in 
Sunnyside, was the second time in less than a month that a commuter was 
pushed to his death at a New York City subway station.

In the first case, Ki-Suck Han, 58, of Elmhurst, Queens, died under the 
Q train at the 49th Street and Seventh Avenue station on Dec. 3. Naeem 
Davis, 30, was charged with second-degree murder in that case.

Both attacks are reminiscent of two strikingly similar subway attacks 
that occurred in 1999 and galvanized the city.

In the attack with the most lasting effect, Andrew Goldstein pushed 
Kendra Webdale, 32, into the path of an N train at the 23rd Street 
station that January, killing her.

The death of Ms. Webdale, a journalist and photographer who had moved to 
the city from Buffalo, unnerved New Yorkers who had come to think of 
their city as the safest it had been in years.

Mr. Goldstein was convicted of second-degree murder, a decision that was 
overturned. But he ultimately pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Although 
he stopped taking medication for schizophrenia, the insanity defense did 
not convince a jury.

Yet in the outrage after Ms. Webdale’s death, the State Legislature 
passed Kendra’s Law, which allows judges to order closely supervised 
outpatient treatment for mentally ill patients who had a history of 
refusing to take their medication and who had been put in jail or 
hospitalized repeatedly or become violent.

The latest attacks show the flaws in the system, according to some 
advocates for the mentally ill.

“If you are involuntarily committed, once you are no longer dangerous, 
you are discharged,” Mr. Jaffe said.

Ms. Menendez often stayed in Rego Park, Queens, with her mother and 
stepfather in their 14-story apartment building. That was the address 
where family friends said she was visited by outpatient mental health 
workers from Elmhurst hospital.

When she was arrested in 2003, she was staying in Ridgewood, Queens.

In an interview, Mr. Conlisk, now 65, said he had never seen her before 
the confrontation. He said she approached him from behind, screaming and 
accusing him of sleeping with her mother.

“She goes into a boxer’s stance, and then she punches my face,” he said. 
He pressed charges and had a restraining order against her for a year, 
he added, but never saw her again.

“I think I would have been dead if she had a weapon,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Daniel Krieger, Michael Schwirtz, Julie 
Turkewitz and Benjamin Weiser.

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