The Kingston Police Department’s Facebook page is a boon to the community — it’s a real leap in keeping Kingstonians informed about what the police are up to and who’s being charged with what. It’s served as an effective interface for people to funnel information to the KPD, debate the merits of this arrest or that one and the law in general and in some cases, allows a defendant to plead his or her case in the court of Internet public opinion.
This week, the ongoing debate about what to do with the poor and mentally ill in the community blew up all over the KPD’s FB. The catalyst was one Joseph Mannello, 57, who picked up a misdemeanor theft of services charge and a violation trespass charge after, police allege, he walked into the Super 8 and helped himself to the breakfast reserved for the motel’s paying guests.
First-blush reaction — the Internet in general and Facebook in particular is great for committing first-blush reactions to history — was outrage that a homeless, presumably hungry fellow human being would get locked up for merely trying to eat something. “Shame on the motel,” posted someone. Why didn’t he go to Queens Galley, asked another.
Then Diane Reeder jumped in to point out that while the Galley does in fact serve meals to anyone who asks, this particular person cut himself off from that by “physically endangering one of our staff.”
Reeder continued: “He IS homeless. He IS hungry. He is also mentally ill and indicative of a greater problem. He needs more help than he is willing to accept and those who would endeavor to help have their hands tied.”
That didn’t convince everyone, though. “Good lord let the man eat ur going to starve a man cus he has no place to live …buy the man a meal,” posted Gordon J. Angier.
Then some Super 8 personnel started posting. A man identifying himself as the general manager of the motel wrote that they’d had a long history with Mannello and that he’d been repeatedly warned to stay off the premises. His posts, which went on to point out that the Super 8 (which does show up as the setting for many of our police briefs, it has to be said) was not “ a homeless shelter, an assisted living facility, a food bank, a drug distribution or treatment center” and that they do try to get people who look like they need help some help. In between were all the arguments one reads or hears when talking about the mentally ill, welfare recipients and homeless: they need help and what the hell is wrong with you for not wanting to help; put them all in jail; bring back the psychiatric institutions; people are too kind; people aren’t kind enough. Not surprisingly, 100-plus comments in the thread failed to generate a consensus.
In that way, this little blip on the Internet is a fair microcosm of how we deal (or don’t deal) with the problem of the mentally ill. We’ve gone from the unsatisfying solution of massive internment — visit the crumbling campuses of the old state hospitals in Hyde Park and Dover Plains to get an idea of the scale of institutionalization back then — to the unsatisfying solution of medication and living, sometimes unsuccessfully, in the community. What do we do with the people who are what the suspect is alleged to be: mentally ill, dangerous and thoroughly unpleasant? Try again to help? Protect ourselves and our property? Sigh in relief when he gets taken off the street and put into jail, knowing full well that he won’t get the help he needs and will be back out on the streets sooner than later? Advocate for more resources for the homeless and mentally ill?
Solving the problem is hard and costly, which goes a long way to explain why it hasn’t yet been solved to anyone’s satisfaction. Thing is, though, the members of our community who suffer aren’t going away and that means the problem isn’t, either. Concludes Tiffany Chambers, the last poster on the thread: “i think i want to eat some granola and hug someone… you people are SICK.”