The woman, Nicole Barrett, was severely injured when she was struck on the head while waiting to cross a street. Witnesses said that the attack, in broad daylight, was unprovoked. For New Yorkers, the assault raised the spectre of an earlier attack, in which a woman died after being pushed off a subway platform by a man who was found to be mentally ill.
The mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani pursues a policy of "zero tolerance" against crime, which has been condemned by liberals as harsh. He announced a crackdown on homeless people sleeping on city streets, saying they must go into a shelter or be arrested.
The policy was attacked by charities, and by Hillary Clinton, who has announced her intention of running for the Senate against a Republican candidate, who could be Mr Giuliani. She said locking up the homeless was "penalising poverty".