Op-ed: How could they let this happen?

A man placed a flower in a memorial in Chinatown for the homeless men who were recently killed. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

BY LEE BERMAN | I am outraged at the Oct. 5 mass homicide in Chinatown—and am furious that neither the mayor, our local or state elected officials or even our community boards will be called out as being complicit in the murder of four defenseless people.

A modern civilized society does not allow its most vulnerable citizens to live on the streets, in its parks, on its subways, under its highways or in its tunnels. A civilized society does not allow its drug addled or mentally ill to decide that it is OK to urinate and defecate in train cars, bathe in children’s playground sprinklers or eat from garbage cans.

And a civilized society does not allow a revolving door criminal justice system where individuals repeatedly arrested for violent crimes are allowed to reoffend with no repercussions.

I pass by the area daily and saw the homeless encampment on East Broadway every morning. I began my career documenting and reporting on New York City in the late 1980s. Much of that coverage included the skyrocketing homeless situation which, at the time, helped define the crime and lawlessness in New York City—from the homeless encampments at Columbus Circle, to Tompkins Square Park, to the “Mole People” who lived in the railroad tunnels under Riverside Park and countless other areas.

As bad as the homeless situation in the city was back then, it was a drop in the bucket compared to what we are currently experiencing under the present administration.

Passing by the blood splattered homicide scene Monday morning, I recognized the location and description of the elderly homeless victim brutally killed as that of the gentleman I gave food and water to on one of this past summer’s hottest days as he sat in that very spot, minding his own business.

To argue that the root cause of the murder spree is a lack of affordable housing (as some politicians have already done) is disingenuous to the homeless as well as to everyday New Yorkers.

This “homeless attacker” has a long rap sheet with 14 prior arrests, including violent assaults in a homeless shelter and on the subway. He even assaulted his own mother and grandfather. Had he encountered anyone else during his murderous spree, surely they too would have been part of his body count, whether they were homeless or just walking down the street.

Kimlau Square, where 3 of the 4 murders occurred, is in the direct line of sight of, and only a few hundred feet from Police Headquarters. On Saturday night, police prevented the homeless from sleeping in Kimlau Square because it was a crime scene.

Where were the police two nights ago, two months ago or even two years ago when Kimlau Square, like so many other parks, sidewalks and streets in our city, were taken over by the homeless?

The city has let these people down. How many more must die before the mentally ill, drug and substance abusers and vulnerable others who live on the streets and are unable to care for themselves are finally afforded the treatment and compassion they so deserve?

Lee Berman is a District Leader from the Lower East Side, a member of Community Board 3, a founding member of the Grand Street Democrats, former Democratic State Committee Member from the 65th Assembly District (which includes Chinatown) and a lifelong Lower East Side resident.