Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, has organized a task force that is is being directed to find ways to improve the response of emergency workers in the city when responding to calls involving mentally ill New Yorkers. This action on the part of the mayor comes just two weeks after a mentally ill man was killed by police officers that mistakenly believed he was wielding a firearm.
The task force will be composed of officials for the city as well as residents of New York who themselves are living with mental illnesses.
Saheed Vassel was shot by New York City police officers when a metal shower head he held in his hand was thought to be a gun. The family of Vassel is asking that unedited video footage of the incident be released.
Mayor de Blasio has characterized the Vassel shooting as a tragedy but did not ignore the fact that officers as well as others that were present considered the actions of Vassel to be threatening.
Eric Schneiderman, Attorney General for the state of New York, has stated that he will look into the circumstances of the case. A 2015 executive order signed by Andrew Cuomo mandates that Schneiderman become the special prosecutor for any officer-involved killing of a civilian when suspicious circumstances are present.
Chirlane McCray, the wife of Mayor de Blasio, spoke Wednesday at an annual convention put on by the National Action Network headed by Reverend Al Sharpton. McCray herself is the force behind Thrive NYC, an $850 million initiative started in 2015 to address mental health issues among residents of New York City.
McCray explained to listeners that the country had never had a mental health system the likes of which are seen in the network of fitness centers and gyms throughout the country. The first lady of New York City went on to express that this fact was a major reason that some individuals in need of help do not receive it. She explained that the lack of a coordinated system in place to address the needs of the mentally ill has allowed many of these individuals to fall through the cracks.
McCray told the crowd that the new task force started by her husband is a step in the right direction.