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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Mentally Ill, Violent, and Living on the Streets

     Riverside Park, situated along the Hudson River, stretches four miles from 72nd Street to 158th Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Just before eight o'clock on Tuesday morning, October 1, 2013, New Yorkers enjoying this beautiful place were jogging, walking, biking, and sitting on benches.  This was a spot in the city, especially at this time of day, where people felt safe. But on this morning a mentally disturbed man who bounced between homeless shelters in Manhattan and the Bronx, showed up at the park with a vacant stare and a threatening posture.

     Julius Graham, who had spent most of his life in Texas, used a pair of scissors to stab a 32-year-old women in the neck as she jogged near 65th Street and Riverside Park South. Seconds later, the 43-year-old homeless man stabbed another female jogger with the bloody scissors. The silent attacker next stabbed 36-year-old Ben Loehnen in the stomach as the book editor walked his dog. At first Mr. Loehnen thought he'd been punched in the stomach.

     As the scissor wielding man's fourth victim, Julius Graham randomly selected James L. Fayette, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. When Mr. Fayette came face to face with the man and his bloody scissors, he picked his 2-year-old son up out of his stroller and ran. Graham caught up with the father who tried to fight him off while holding onto his boy. When slashed in the chest with the scissors, Fayette put his son on the ground and covered him with his body.

     A bystander, Thomas Ciriacks came to Fayette's rescue by pushing Graham off the victim and wrestling him to the ground. Ciriacks held the attacker down until the arrival of police officers a few minutes later. The man who bravely took the assailant down not only saved others from being slashed or stabbed, he saved the lives of Mr. Fayette and his son. It was possible that Mr. Ciriacks also saved the attacker's life. No police officer would wrestle with a man armed with a pair of bloody scissors. He'd shoot him first.

     Except for the boy who was treated and released for a minor cut on his arm, the other victims of this Tuesday morning attack received injuries serious enough to keep them at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in Midtown Manhattan. Ben Loehnen, the man stabbed in the stomach, underwent emergency surgery.

     Police officers transported Julius Graham to the Bellevue Hospital Center where a team of mental health experts concluded the obvious--Mr. Graham was dangerous.

     Julius Graham was charged with five counts of assault, criminal possession of a weapon, and resisting arrest. He had been spending his nights at the Willow Avenue shelter in an industrial section of the Bronx. According to people who know him there, Graham did not like spending time in the shelter.

     In speaking to a reporter with The New York Times, D. J. Jaffe, executive director of the Mental Illness Policy Organization, said that in the 1950s, people suffering from serious mental illness were cared for in institutions designed for long term treatment. In New York City, mentally ill people either lived on the street, or were temporarily housed at Rikers Island--the city's massive jail complex. As a result, there was no place in the city that was completely safe from the random attacks of violent people who were out of touch with reality. In most instances, these people, with long histories of mental illness, stop taking their anti-psychotic medication. To get people like this off the street, required a court order. And even then, following a ten day drug regimen, they were usually released back into society.

     In April 2015, Julius Graham pleaded guilty to six counts of assault. The prosecutor agreed to drop the attempted murder charges against him. In May 2015, Judge Charles H. Solomon sentenced Graham to 23 years in prison.

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