On Easter Sunday I was surfing the Net. There were a few, obligatory religious items, but very few. On the contrary, there were two items that, taken together, send a message that is contrary to the spirit of Easter – and contrary to the spirit of religion in general.
Both news items originated in New York City. The first was on Fox News. It seems that a crowd of about 50 demonstrators blocked the sidewalk outside actor Liam Neeson’s apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. They carried signs reading, “Liam Neeson: stop supporting cruelty! PETA.” One placard showed the image of a dead horse, with the words “Worked to death.”
Whether that horse was in fact worked to death, or died of an equine disease, remains in question. But here is another question: If the mayor succeeds in abolishing the carriage rides, what will happen to the horses? (a) Will they be adopted and cared for by members of PETA? (b) Will they be killed and sent to the slaughterhouse? I’d bet serious money on (b). But does that qualify as “ethical treatment”?
I was unaware that Neeson supported cruelty, so I read further. The activists were protesting Neeson’s opinion piece in the New York Times, in which he opposed Mayor de Blasio’s plan to abolish the horse-drawn carriages that for many decades have been a familiar attraction in the area around Central Park.
Neeson remarked that the horses are well-treated and housed in stables. He added that in the past 30 years, the carriages have made an estimated 6 million trips, during which four horses have been killed in traffic accidents, with no human fatalities. New York taxis would envy that safety record.
But perhaps what the activists found most offensive was this remark:
It has been my experience, always, that horses, much like humans, are at their happiest and healthiest when working,
Neeson was speaking from sad experience. In 2009 he lost his young wife and mother to their two children, Natasha Richardson, in a tragic skiing accident. Since then, Neeson has continued to make hit movies, including “Taken,” “Taken 2,” and “Non-Stop.” I have no doubt that when he speaks about the beneficial effects of working, he speaks as an unwilling expert.
Still, Neeson should have expected to evoke the rage of so-called animal activists. Not only did he dare to differ with their opinions – imagine the effrontery! – but he even went so far as to praise the effects of work – clearly a thinly veiled expression of “racism” and “anti-immigrant bias.” No, anyone who has the gall to differ with leftist beliefs must be attacked and destroyed as a heretic. In you doubt this, just ask Brendan Eich, who was kicked out as CEO of Firefox for having donated to a campaign to keep marriage as between one man and one woman – back in 2008. The Left has long memories – but no tolerance for real diversity.
These demonstrators claim to speak for PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Yes, that PETA – the PETA that wants domestic dogs and cats to die out, and the PETA whose head hoped that foot-and-mouth disease would wipe out domestic cattle. When “love” and “ethical treatment” are confused with death, we must be very, very careful.
The second item appeared on National Review Online. It concerned Jerome Murdough, who in better times had been a U.S. Marine. But recently the 56-year-old black man had been homeless, reportedly the victim of schizophrenia and alcoholism. To escape the unusually cold New York winter (no doubt the result of global warming), he fell asleep in the stairwell of an apartment house.
The people there, unwilling simply to let him sleep, called the police, who arrested Murdough for trespassing. He was taken to Rikers Island, the second-largest jail system in the nation – the first, of course, being Los Angeles County. Like other large jails, about 40% of Rikers prisoners are thought to be mentally ill.
Because of his known mental illness, Murdough was placed in a solitary six-by-ten cell, with walls composed of cinder blocks. The malfunctioning heating system caused the temperature in the cell to exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit – exceed by how much was not stated. In effect, his cell became a pizza oven. Nevertheless, Jerome Murdough was not a pizza. His toppings were not salami and anchovies, but a brain that, though unwell, was still entirely human. His value was not measured in dollars and cents, but infinite – that is, in God’s image. He was located not at Pizza Hut, but in a jail where prisoners were meant to be kept confined – but alive.
By the time corrections officers found him, he was dead of hyperthermia. The officer responsible was given a 30-day suspension, the maximum punishment possible under union rules. The warden in charge, and the heating-system supervisor, were transferred. This is what passes for “responsibility” when money-dispensing public-employee unions are in bed with money-hungry politicians.
If Murdough were not a member of a minority group, and if his family did not raise a protest that the media picked up, he would have been forgotten. How many other hundreds (thousands?) of mentally ill prisoners suffer injury or death each year in our jails and prisons? Who knows? Even worse, who cares?
Much has been written about how the mentally ill were de-institutionalized in the 1960s and 1970s. Much has been said about how the promised neighborhood mental-health clinics were never built. But as a wise man remarked, when all is said and done, a lot more is said than done.
Liberals blame conservatives for wanting to save money at the expense of caring for the mentally ill and the homeless. And we must admit that being penny-wise and pound-foolish does play a role. Is incarcerating the mentally ill in jails really cheaper than caring for them properly? Is the havoc they create on the streets really worth the money saved? Do we really want to teach our children to step over prostrate human beings on the sidewalk, without a second thought?
Meanwhile, conservatives blame liberals for seeing mental illness as a civil-liberties issue, not a health-care issue. And we must admit that when (Democratic) Mayor Koch ordered police to take the homeless to shelters during a bitterly cold New York winter, the ACLU went to court and got a restraining order. In effect, the ACLU advocated a “right” to freeze to death on the street. Therefore, it ill-behooves liberals now to complain about a mentally ill man who roasted to death in jail. Dead is dead, whether from hyperthermia or hypothermia.
The media often ignore this problem until it becomes acute. Even so, there are frequent reports. For example, there is the homeless, mentally ill woman who was shot to death by police when she lunged at them with a screwdriver – in an attempt to prevent them from confiscating the shopping cart she had stolen from a market. And then there is the homeless, mentally ill man beaten fatally by police, when he violently resisted being taken into custody for peering into parked cars in an area where theft from vehicles was common.
We hear repeated demands that police be given more training in handling the mentally ill. Up to a point, this makes sense. But in the end, police are police, not mental-health professionals. We do not expect mental-health workers to take violent suspects into custody or to deal with people brandishing deadly weapons. Likewise, it is unreasonable to expect law-enforcement professionals to deal effectively with the mentally ill. A patrol car can never be a substitute for a mental-health clinic.
In the end, we must overcome our reluctance to deal with the mentally ill, whether we are liberals or conservatives. The problem is societal – and more important, it is moral. In the end, we must face our own hypocrisy. We claim to love animals, but we tolerate policies that ultimately will cause them to be slaughtered. We claim to sympathize with the mentally ill, but we tolerate policies that ultimately will cause them to be frozen or roasted or shot to death.
We can argue about whether or not horses should be working on city streets in 2014. But there is no question that the homeless, mentally ill should not be living on city streets in 2014. That they remain there while we pass by, pretending not to notice, is our shame.
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