Each year, the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless compile statistics on attacks against people experiencing homelessness nationwide. The latest report on attacks in 2007, shows little progress has been made over the years. Daniel Horner of Street Sense, our sister paper in Washington D.C., writes that as the times are getting tighter, the us-against-them attitude is coming to blows.
By Daniel Horner
Violent attacks against homeless people in the U.S. increased significantly in 2007, with the number of lethal attacks jumping by 40% from the previous year’s figure, according to a recently issued report by two groups that advocate for the homeless.
Fatal attacks jumped from 20 in 2006 to 28 in 2007, while the total number increased from 142 to 160 – a rise of 13% – according to the study “Hate, Violence, and Death on Main Street USA: A Report on Hate Crimes and Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness 2007.”
Factors ranging from local laws that criminalize homelessness to a current fad for “bum-bashing” videos “send a message to society that homeless people are not human [and] do not deserve respect” said Tulin Ozdeger, the civil rights director for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. The law center prepared the report along with the National Coalition for the Homeless.
Local laws that restrict public sleeping, sitting, storing property or asking for money create an “environment of hostility” against homeless people and send the message that “attacks against them will not be taken seriously,” she said.
The two groups have not done a full “scientific analysis,” but Ozdeger sees a correlation between such laws and attacks.
Florida, whose 31 violent anti-homeless incidents topped the 2007 list, has a number of localities that have passed anti-homeless measures.
Another factor in the continued prevalence of violence against homeless people is “bum bashing” videos, according to the study. Over 6.8 million copies of such videos have been sold and teenagers have imitated the videos “by recording themselves beating up homeless individuals just for the fun of it,” the report said.
Retail sales of the videos have slowed down, but that success has been offset by the rise of YouTube, where such videos are popular, Ozdeger said.
After Florida, the states with the largest numbers of incidents were California (22), Nevada (14) and Ohio (13). But Nevada’s population of 2.5 million is far less than California’s 36.5 million, Florida’s 18 million and Ohio’s 11.5 million.
But Ozdeger cautioned that the figures may well be low. The report draws its data primarily from media reports, since victims of the attacks often don’t report the attacks to law-enforcement authorities, she said.
Of the people accused and convicted of violence against the homeless in 2007, 86% were 25 and under, with many saying they committed the crimes for the “thrill” or “fun” of it, the report said.
According to the report, some of the attacks seem to be motivated by “bias against the victims because they are homeless.” For that reason, the study asserts that attacks against the homeless should be tallied as hate crimes. Brian Levin of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino said that failing to count attacks against the homeless as hate crimes “denies the rightful communal condemnation of this prevalent, but often invisible form of violent prejudice.”
There were 187 fatal attacks on homeless individuals from 1999 through 2006, according to the report. For that same period, FBI statistics show 85 homicides classified as hate crimes, the report said.
Reprinted from Street Sense
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