It’s every New Yorker’s worst nightmare. On Monday, Oct. 4, as Lenny Javier was waiting for the subway, video shows 29-year-old Anthonia Egegbara lunge at her, shoving her with full force toward the oncoming train. A few moments earlier and Javier would be dead; luckily, she survived with a broken nose, fractured jaw and other traumas.
The victim was random. The attacker was not.
In fact, Egegbara’s history of alleged violence and severe mental illness perfectly matches many attackers who have contributed to the city’s crime underground and above. A diagnosed schizophrenic, she was charged and released on July 5 with a third-degree assault in Harlem that left her victim with a black eye, broken nose and a knocked-out tooth. Egegbara had received multiple assault charges over the past decade, as well as other arrests including grand larceny and criminal mischief.
Criminal-justice arguments over the past two years have focused on the imperative to keep offenders in their communities, out on the streets and riding the trains. This reasoning informed the state’s 2020 bail-reform laws and the progressive emphasis on non-prosecution among Gotham’s district attorneys’ offices. It inspired the newly passed “Less Is More Act,” which had the reported immediate impact of releasing 200 inmates from Rikers Island jail complex.
Further, the prevalence of serious mental illness among the violent offenders held at Rikers — reportedly nearly one in five inmates have been diagnosed — has been a leading argument for emptying the jail out, resulting in a recent memo from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance emphasizing suspending bail.
But after they are released from Rikers, nothing. No mandatory treatment of their mental illness. No real monitoring of their behavior. That means many more Egegbaras circulating around the city.
There have already been 21 subway shovings this year where victims were “successfully” pushed to the tracks. This is more than the pushings reported for all of 2019 — although daily subway ridership at still just above half what it was that year. And through August 2021, felony assaults in the subways were about 33 percent above the same period in 2019, with all violent felonies underground also above 2019 levels.
And the subway is not the only zone where unhinged attackers have turned a banal New York moment into a scene from a horror movie.
On Monday afternoon, a grandmother was walking down a quiet Bronx sidewalk with three toddlers when Santiago Salcedo, 27, allegedly loped toward them — then suddenly leapt forward, snatching her 3-year-old granddaughter. Thankfully, bystanders responded to the grandmother’s frantic screams and got Salcedo to abandon the kidnapped girl.
A week prior, a teenaged girl was eating sushi outside a Queens restaurant when Minerva Martinez, 36, allegedly shuffled up behind her and put her neck in a tight stranglehold.
Martinez then released the teen and stood menacingly a few steps back until a passerby intervened. The frightened victim was bruised, but luckily escaped without permanent physical injury.
Once again, while the victims were random, their assailants all suffered from violent mental disturbance. Salcedo was later located by police sleeping in the entryway to a restaurant. Martinez’s long list of arrests included six felony arrests going back to 2015. In January 2020, police found her babbling to herself and took her to Elmhurst Hospital. But in August, a warrant was issued for her arrest on a grand-larceny charge.
And while these victims survived, Maria Ambrocio was not so lucky. The 58-year-old oncology nurse died after being slammed to the ground last Friday by Jermaine Foster, 26, who cops say was fleeing through Times Square. Foster had just stolen a young woman’s phone and earlier in the day had reportedly barged into another woman’s home and stolen $15. Now charged with murder, Foster’s family describes a young man who has been repeatedly hospitalized with mental illness since his teens. And who, since the death of his father last year, was no longer living with someone supervising his medications and keeping him from violence.
Hizzoner’s signature mental-health boondoggle ThriveNYC has continued to expand despite its lack of concrete metrics or demonstrable real progress in reducing mental illness among Gotham’s homeless and inmate populations.
Meanwhile, the criminal-justice system needs support for its mental-health courts to operate judicial-monitoring programs. The city needs to expand Kendra’s Law, which mandates court-ordered treatment — and could even be grown to include an outreach program to those leaving jail or staying in shelters who could benefit from its care. Not to mention increased political pressure needed to boost our number of state-managed adult psychiatric beds and to have our nonprofit hospitals devote more resources to these types of patients.
The city needs to provide better identification of, and long-term treatment for, our severely mentally ill. But in the meantime, continually reducing the number of violent offenders who are confined increases each New Yorker’s odds of being the next random victim.
Hannah E. Meyers is director of the policing and public safety initiative at the Manhattan Institute.
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