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17 Jun, 2021 12:01

NYC mayor candidate Andrew Yang stirs anger with blunderous proposal to take ‘mentally ill’ people out of the streets

NYC mayor candidate Andrew Yang stirs anger with blunderous proposal to take ‘mentally ill’ people out of the streets

New York City mayor candidate Andrew Yang has once again found himself on the receiving end of Twitter outrage after seemingly showing a dismissive attitude to people with mental health problems during a debate.

The tech billionaire, who came to the forefront of US national politics with his unconventional 2020 presidential run, seems to be stumbling from one public blunder to another on his trail towards the New York City mayor’s office. His latest self-inflicted injury came on Wednesday, during the third and final round of debate before next week’s primaries, when Yang drew a contrast between people with mental health problems and “us.”

"Yes, mentally ill people have rights, but you know who else has rights? We do! The people and families of the city," Yang declared. “We have the right to walk the street and not fear for our safety because a mentally ill person is going to lash out at us.”

The debate was focused on the city’s chronic problem of homelessness and how it has apparently contributed to a spike of random assaults. The perpetrators are often homeless, mentally ill, or both. Candidates offered their solutions, with Yang proposing a doubling of the number of inpatient psychiatric beds at city clinics. Many of those were downsized to make room for Covid-19 patients during the pandemic, with occupants often released to live in the streets.

The way Yang argued for his proposal was taken by many as an attack by a powerful and wealthy person against a marginalized and victimized group. 

Even the candidate himself acknowledged that he should have found better words to make his case. He said he wants to give mentally ill people the compassionate help they desperately need and not simply get them out of sight, out of mind.

Painting Yang as a heartless elitist goes against the core messaging of his political campaigns, some commenters noted. His presidential campaign was founded on a warning that work automation was about to wipe millions of jobs and that the government needs to be ready to mitigate the damage. His preferred solution was universal basic income – regular unconditional payments to everyone.

Earlier in the campaign, Yang similarly stumbled with public remarks. Last month, he suffered massive backlash after posting a cookie-cutter message supporting Israel during the latest escalation of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The latest round of the vicious cycle of violence in the Middle East marked a strong shift of US public opinion against Israel and in favor of Palestinians, which apparently caught Yang by surprise.

In April, the candidate was ridiculed for calling gay people “so human and beautiful” at an LGBT event, which many people found patronizing and tone-deaf.

Amid publicity flops, Yang slipped from a leading position in the mayoral race and is currently trailing in fourth place. But the ranked-choice voting system used this year may bring surprises at the ballot box, so his supporters remain hopeful and tout the parts of the debate where his performance was stronger.

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