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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Remembering Billie Boggs

Fellow blogger Robbo, who lives in a D.C. suburb, reports the corpse of a man surrounded by empty beer cans was found recently in a tent the fellow lived in, in woods behind Robbo's house. There's no telling the particulars but odds are, like so many homeless, the man was mentally ill, schizophrenic probably, and downed vast quantities of alcohol in order to still the voices he heard in his deeply troubled mind. Robbo notes in an earlier time poor souls like this would have been locked up for their own and society's good but beginning in the Carter administration, in the name of "civil liberties," were turned loose, just as whacked out as before but "free" now to do whatever they wished.

The problem of the homeless in New York City, after the mental hospitals had been closed, exploded in the 1980s to the point where they were found on nearly every block in midtown and in large encampments in the parks (I'll never forget walking along the West Drive in Central Park one afternoon and catching site in one such encampment, on a stretch of lawn along Central Park South, the naked backside of a 300-plus pound woman as she took a copious dump on the grass). Then-Mayor Ed Koch finally had enough and ordered the police to round up the most incapacitated homeless and haul them to Bellevue Hospital where a special facility had been set up for them.

One of those rounded up, going by the name of Billie Boggs, was particularly notorious, well known to all who frequented midtown. Camped atop a heating vent on a sidewalk near Grand Central Terminal, she would shriek obscenities at passers by and if at hand, would hurl dog feces at them. While at Bellevue Boggs, who possessed considerable intelligence, contacted the New York Civil Liberties Union who took up her case. Owing to the expert handling of it by NYCLU director Norman Siegel, Billie Boggs was quickly made a cause célèbre among left-wing elites of New York City and became, as her case made its way through the courts, an eloquent spokeswoman (the drugs they treated her with at Bellevue having had their effect) for the civil "rights" of the mentally ill. Billie appeared on the Phil Donahue show and in perhaps her greatest triumph, gave a well-received lecture at the Harvard Law School. At a press conference Norman Siegel asked rhetorically, in classic PoMo relativistic fashion, if it were even possible to distinguish between the mentally ill and those pursuing"a vigorous alternative lifestyle." Billie won her case and was set free amid a shower of publicity and press.

Two weeks after giving her address at Harvard, Billie was seen back at her perch on the heating grate, dirty and disheveled, screaming obscenities and flinging turds at people. A couple of weeks later she was arrested for brawling. She drifted in and out of the courts and was seen for a while on various street corners on the East Side, in varying states of disrepair, then vanished, both from the public and the public's mind. Nobody from the Harvard Law School went looking for her, nor did Norman Siegel or anyone else from the New York Civil Liberties Union, or any of her other liberal "supporters." Billie Boggs, like Cynthia Sheehan so many years later, was no longer useful to her left-wing benefactors, indeed she had become a liability, so she was unceremoniously dropped and her former new friends moved on to the next great battle in the class struggle.

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