In the near week since Frank James’ alleged subway attack in Brooklyn, it’s generally accepted that the welfare system of New York City, or America, has failed him – and us. Yet no one has shown how social services could have stopped this attack. What we have is what it looks like: a villain who intelligently planned and executed a bad thing.
After the mass shooting, Councilwoman Alexa Avilés and MP Marcela Mitaynes, representing Sunset Park, said so showed how “we need investment in social services — Housing, healthcare, and education.” Politico wondered “what the Brooklyn subway shooting reveals about the state of mental health care.”
So far? Nothing at all.
True, New York City and the state are leaving seriously mentally ill people on the streets, despite several warning signs. Some of those people, like Martial Simon, who pushed Michelle Go to her death under a subway train in January, are violent. Simon had one documented History of delusions and compulsions severe enough to prevent him from functioning.
James is not that person. Although James was born in New York, he has no obvious ties to the city. As of Wednesday, he had not been arrested here for almost a quarter of a century.
He doesn’t fit the profile of Simon or the people accused of killing Christina Yuna Lee and Krystal Bayron-Nieves this year: people recently arrested and released despite escalating episodes of uncontrolled violent impulses.
James claimed in his video rants that New York’s mental health system failed him, but he didn’t say when or how. If the education system failed him, it was five decades ago. (Perhaps the lack of charter schools let him down at the time.)
Our housing system hasn’t failed him, unless it fails everyone who leaves New York for another city for one reason or another. He found a place to stay in Milwaukee and an Airbnb in Philly.
If social services from Milwaukee or any other city noticed James’ YouTube screeds in which he said white people “kill and commit genocide on one another” and would do the same to “your black ass,” they explained that “white people and black people . . . shouldn’t have contact with each other” and praised 9/11 as “have a nice day”?
These are disordered thoughts — and as Mayor Eric Adams said last week, Big Tech should stop allowing people to amplify disordered thoughts.
But you are allowed to have disordered thoughts. You may think that 9/11 was an inside job; Bizarre racial theories are allowed.
There’s no getting around the fact that James was functional. As he said himself, he chosen not working consistently for a living: “There is no way I will . . . go to work, pay my taxes.”
It was functional enough to plan and execute a complex ideological attack across geographic boundaries.
He was functional enough to assemble the gear he needed to disguise himself as an MTA construction worker, promptly shedding his disguise so he could escape. He even arranged his own arrest.
There’s an air of patronizing racism in suggesting that James didn’t do exactly what he set out to do but “needed help.”
Anyone who commits a mass attack has psychological problems. Probably Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City assassin did have post-traumatic stress disorderand probably Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was manipulated by his mastermind brother. The 9/11 hijackers also (apparently!) had confused thoughts.
No one ever says they needed housing services.
Like these other attackers, James distinguishes right from wrong and action and consequence. In one video, he said that “I wanted to kill people,” but “I don’t want to go to the friggin’ jail.”
Should the FBI have focused on the videos James posted just prior to his attack, of him using more threatening language, such as saying “it’s time”?
Sure, but these are law enforcement agencies, not social services. Also, James didn’t make any direct threats – further evidence of careful planning.
It might be a good idea for social services to interact more with the likes of James. But there is much such people: people on the fringes of society, with plenty of time to cultivate crazy ideas.
Will New York City hunt down each of these people and provide them with an apartment and intensive daily counseling so they don’t drive across country to attack us?
Nicole Gelinas is Associate Editor of the City Journal of the Manhattan Institute.