An Inclusive Litany


In New York, forty-year-old Joyce Brown (a.k.a. Billie Boggs) was observed for several months urinating and defecating on the street, running into traffic, burning money given to her by passers-by, and shouting racial and sexual epithets, mostly at black men (she herself was black). City authorities picked her up and admitted her to Bellevue's psychiatric ward, where she was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.

After arriving at Bellevue, Brown contacted the New York Civil Liberties Union. Robert Levy, who became her lawyer, disagreed sharply with the Bellevue diagnosis, calling her "very intelligent" and "extremely lucid, extremely articulate," despite the fact that she had been off the street for a while and had been treated with psychotropic drugs. "I didn't think I'd spoken to a mental patient," Levy said after his first meeting with Brown. "She sounded more like a board member of the civil liberties union."

Following a fierce legal battle with the city, a judge ordered Brown released, and she went to work briefly as a receptionist for the NYCLU, who had championed her cause. She left, by their account, because she was unable to cope with the job. She appeared on the "Donahue" show, but not before producers bought her $300 in clothes and paid $200 for a new hairdo—once hair stylists removed the lice from her hair. Then Brown hit the law school lecture circuit. Sixteen days after she spoke at Harvard Law School, she was on the street again, panhandling and swearing at black people.