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What to do if you encounter a brawler on the subway


Lyudmila Balabay

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May 1 Former Marine Daniel Penny strangled homeless Jordan Neely, who yelled and threatened people on the subway. Now the whole country is arguing about, Penny - hero or murderer. In addition, the death sparked a wave of discussions on social media about how to behave if you are faced with a person who is in a state of medical or mental crisis.

For many New Yorkers, meeting a strange, yelling, or even aggressive person on the subway is a common thing. The city authorities do not have clear advice on how metro passengers should respond to them. New York City Mayor Eric Adams bluntly acknowledged this: "We can't say for sure what a passenger should or shouldn't do."

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Journalists Edition Gothamist we talked with professional psychiatrists, as well as police officers, and found out how to properly respond to an aggressive person on the subway. According to their answers, New York does not have enough resources to cope with brawlers in transport and on the streets of the city. They acknowledged that there is no universal recipe for such a situation, but it is better to try to show compassion, rather than use force.

“Try to treat this as you would any emergency with a family member, loved one, or neighbor,” advises Rebecca Lynn-Walton, social worker and chief medical officer at Services for the UnderServed, a mental health charity. the poor and the homeless.

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Many believe that people with mental illness are more prone to violence than those without mental illness. But experts say this is misleading.

According to Substance Abuse and Mental, “most people with mental disorders are no more violent than any average person,” and “only 3% to 5% of violent acts were committed by people living with a serious mental illness.” The media pays disproportionate attention to crimes committed by people with mental illness. Therefore, it seems to us that there are many such cases. But in fact, if we took into account all the crimes, then the cases in which people with mental problems participated would be lost in the general mass, because there are not many of them.

How to respond to a brawler on the subway

If you feel like a brawler is a threat to your safety, it's best to move away or change to another subway car, advises Matthew Kudish, CEO of the New York chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. However, he emphasized that all people and situations are different. What works for one person may be completely ineffective for another.

Passengers should not assume they know what a person who screams, cries or displays other violent emotions in public is going through, said Nancy Young, director of OnRamps at Fountain House, a resource center for people with serious mental illness.

In some cases, she says, someone's strange behavior can be a cry for help. Young believes that the best response in this case is to try to have a calm conversation and connect with the person. In Neely's case, for example, you could say, "Do you need something? How about taking a walk? Why don't we talk about what's going on with you and how I can help you? What is your name? My name is ... ”Recall, Neely shouted in the subway that he had no money for food and drink.

Young admitted that being calm and kind to a brawler on the subway can be tricky. But, as she says, “a person in crisis can seem scary, in fact, he just needs to talk to someone, he needs to be understood.”

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Kudish disagrees with Yang. He believes that this approach is good only for those who have special education and training. For those who do not have knowledge in the field of psychology, it is better to avoid communicating with a brawler.

“If you don’t feel safe on the subway or anywhere else, you should do everything you can to get out of this situation,” Kudish said. “I would advise people to try to get out of the car.”

“I am a social worker by training, but I would not intervene if I did not feel safe,” he stressed.

Should I call 911

When faced with a brawler on the subway, passengers can warn the conductor or call 911. But the police are often not trained to deal with such people, and everything can end in the murder of a person with a mental disorder. Therefore, when you call 911, be sure to warn the dispatcher what it is about - then there is a better chance that a group of trained people will be sent to the call.

The city has special groups of social workers and emergency doctors who come to call people who need psychiatric help. But they don't cover the entire city, and it's up to the 911 operator to decide if they should be sent.

Line 988 operates in New York. It is designed specifically to address the problems of people with mental health. But it is not suitable for emergencies. Its specialists can help and support an upset person, but they will not calm down a brawler in the subway. Therefore, if the situation requires immediate action, call 911.

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