Of the 23 people arrested for assault and harassment of Asians in New York City since January, 11 admitted to having a mental illness or had been arrested for a previous mental disorder, according to the New York City Police Department.
Theresa Tobin, chief of interagency operations for the NYPD, who oversees the NYPD’s Behavioral Health Unit, said there seems to be a growing number of mentally ill people on the streets and subways every day who randomly and unprovokedly attack people, and that there is no correlation between mental illness and increased crime, but that half of those arrested for assaulting Asians have a history of mental illness.
Among those charged with Asianophobia are Joseph Russo, 28, who suffers from mental illness and has been arrested for three attacks on Asians this year – he was arrested for pulling an Asian woman’s hair on March 22, he also pushed a 77-year-old Chinese man in Brooklyn and beat a 64 He also pushed a 77-year-old Chinese man and beat a 64-year-old Chinese woman on the head in Brooklyn.
But Russo’s relatives claim that Russo was mentally ill and that he was not taking his psychiatric medication when he attacked the three victims.
Russo’s brother, Jason Rosa, said in a media interview that his brother was not racist and that he was simply unaware of what he was doing.
A police department spokeswoman said that although unprovoked attacks on strangers have occurred repeatedly in recent months, the NYPD does not keep records of such crimes, so it is unclear how many unprovoked attacks there have been this year.
The NYPD’s Behavioral Health Unit oversees programs dealing with behavioral health, substance abuse and mental health. Police and a clinician review arrests to see if defendants show an escalating propensity for violence and to determine if they should receive services from the health and mental health department.
“People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crime than those who commit crimes,” said a spokesperson for the New York City Department of Health, “and we should not confuse mental illness with crime.”
A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Health said, “There are service programs for those very few people with mental illness who may pose a danger to others.”