While Yang did not include the words "the only way" (verbatim) in his comments, he did say "we're never going to get our jobs back and our economy back" without getting mentally ill people off the streets and into treatment.
On June 21, 2021, the day before New York City’s mayoral primary election, a New York Times reporter claimed one of the Democratic candidates — Andrew Yang — said on a conservative talk radio show that people with mental illnesses need to be hospitalized in order for the city’s economy to improve.
Fitzsimmons said in the post, which hundreds of users retweeted for their own followers, at 4:18 (EST):
The attribution was correct.
According to 77 WABC’s video recording of the June 21 broadcast segment, which featured candidates of several New York races fielding questions from Catsimatidis and Giuliani, Yang phoned into the show and had the below-transcribed exchange:
Yang: We’re poised to win this race, and then I’m going to get to work on delivering for New Yorkers the public safety we expect and deserve, which includes getting the homeless men who are struggling mentally into environments where they’re safer and healthier. It’s better for everyone. […]
Catsimatidis: One of the most important things with law and order in New York City, is we have all of these homeless people in the streets and lot of them are mentally ill. […] What happened? Don’t those people deserve treatment? Aren’t we better of spending money to build hospitals to treat those poor people?
Yang: 100 percent. We need to get them the care that they need, but that will also supercharge our economic recovery because we all see these mentally ill people on our streets and subways, and you know who else sees them? Tourists. And then they don’t come back, and they tell their friends, ‘Don’t go to New York City.’
We’re never going to get our jobs back and our economy back if we don’t get the mentally ill people who are on our streets in a better environment. It’s going to be worth every penny.
In other words,Yang did not explicitly say hospitalizing people with severe mental health issues was “the only way” (verbatim) to restart the city’s economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he did say “we’re never going to get our jobs back and our economy back” without supposedly taking the step, implying the same thing.
Hours after the radio interview, Yang told The New York Times that he stood by his comments on the radio show, again framing the issue as one of public safety.
“We all know that public safety is top of mind for New Yorkers,” he told the newspaper. “There will not be an economic recovery until people feel safe walking our streets and walking our subways.”
It was not the first instance of Yang, a former presidential candidate, saying people with severe mental issues perpetuate some of the city’s economic and social problems.
During a debate on June 16 with other Democratic candidates (there are 13 total), Yang said city officials need to get people with untreated mental health issues “off of our streets and our subways into a better environment,” and that “mentally ill homeless men are changing the character of our neighborhoods,” presumably for the worse.
“Yes, mentally ill people have rights, but you know who else have rights? We do: the people and families of the city,” Yang said at the debate. “We have the right to walk the street and not fear for our safety because a mentally ill person is going to lash out at us.”
Those comments sparked criticism among social media users who pointed out research that shows people with severe mental illness are far more likely to be victims of crime — not perpetrators — and the fact that mental health includes a wide spectrum of disorders that affect everyone.
The day after the debate, Yang responded to that outcry with the below-displayed tweet.
“Full context here was mental illness is behind half of anti-Asian hate crimes,” he said. “We need to get them compassionate comprehensive care — and not let them languish on our streets.”