Vigil at Scene of Crime
Anne Dox
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Over 100 people gathered through the day outside Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn July 25, 2008. The vigil was, according to its sponsors, “to mourn the loss of Ms. Esmin Elizabeth Green and condemn violations of human rights.” While involuntary detained, Ms. Green died in the waiting room there on June 19, 2008. She had been neglected for nearly 25 hours. Her death drew international attention. In response, vigil sponsors formed a group called WE THE PEOPLE. Their appeal is for “All People to end abuse, torture, and neglect in the wake of Ms. Green’s death”. Plans for the vigil swept quickly all over the world. Simultaneous vigils occurred at other sites in New York State. Similar events were reported in three nations.

People in the neighborhood and the borough joined travelers from around the state. Many identified as having experienced “psychiatric atrocities”. Near the site cordoned off by police for mourners, three hospital staff sat at a table. Hospital flyers offering “deepest sympathy to the family of Esmin Green” were available. Staff also provided drinking water. About a dozen police officers monitored the onset of the event. That number dwindled steadily to a handful at dusk. A Long Island group delivered sandwiches, beverages, and fresh fruit for mourners.

Messages received from sympathizers around the world were read aloud. Prepared and impromptu testimonies were given during the day. Chants were spontaneously delivered in energized voices. Songs were sung with equal spirit. “Do No Harm”, “Abolish Forced Psychiatric Treatment”, and similarly-themed statements were boldly painted on posters held toward traffic. Participants returned waves to people committed at the facility, gathered at windows to join the group by the only means they could.

Scheduled speakers included human rights activists, advocates, local and state legislators, and a member of Ms. Green’s family. An American Civil Liberties Union representative drew strong applause and cheers for his statement, “Be assured, there will be charges filed”. Peter Rivera, Chair of the Mental Health Committee for the New York State Assembly, spoke over angry outbursts from the gathering while citing projects directed at “the mentally ill”. One undertaking which received a strong, negative reaction was a proposed increase in mental health courts.

Vigil candles, handmade for this event, were passed around at sunset by the Staten Island group which donated them. A deeper sense of camaraderie seemed to spread as candles were lighted one-to-one. Somber hymns were sung, scattered with uplifting songs to celebrate the human spirit. The vigil ended at 10 pm when the police permit expired. Mourners said farewells and quietly left the site.
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