On Friday evening, more than 100 people, most of them self-described “psychiatric survivors,” gathered outside Kings County Hospital to memorialize Esmin Green. The event was one of 10 candlelight vigils being held around the globe to remember the 49-year-old who died alone while waiting for treatment in the psychiatric emergency room.
Green’s death elicited widespread outrage after the release of a surveillance video that showed several hospital staffers ignoring her even as she collapsed and lay prone on the floor for close to an hour on June 19. (See the the surveillance video and photos of the candlelight vigil here.)
“At the end of the day in New York State, there needs to be a sweeping investigation of the entire system,” said Lauren Tenney, the organizer of the Friday event. Behind her, scores of people, many of whom had been committed to psychiatric facilities in New York, held signs saying “First Do No Harm” and “Human Rights Now.” Some traveled hours to attend the vigil, from upstate New York, Pennsylvania and even Florida.
Among those rallying were Les Cook, Marian Merlino and David Gonzalez, all activists who were previously treated to Kings County psych ward. “I was an inmate here and I was terrified,” said Cook, who was involuntarily committed in 1988. Cook remembers being scared to ask questions about the medication they were administering after seeing a woman forcibly strapped to a gurney, and now runs an organization that advocates for better peer support of people diagnosed with mental illness. Also there was Assemblyman Peter Rivera, chair of the Assembly’s mental health committee, who spoke about the failures of the system, followed by George Ebert of the Mental Patient Liberation Alliance.
Esmin Green’s death has brought together factions that are often at odds: several radical groups of “psychiatric survivors” who seek to dismantle the entire mental health care system co-sponsored the vigil alongside the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s National Consumer Council, a more mainstream and widely-recognized organization that sometimes draws the ire of the radicals. “Our movements are usually so divided over how to go about doing things, but Esmin Green has brought everyone together,” Tenney said.
As the group lit candles at dusk, a lone patient looked out of a window on one of the upper floors of the hospital.