This week, NCH will release their annual report on biased incidences against un-housed individuals, “Hate Crimes against the Homeless: The Brutality of Violence Unveiled”. Take a look at an excerpt from Brian Levin, Director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, which details the crucial need for federal protections for the homeless.
Many people worry about the dangers of terrorism, natural disasters, and plane crashes.
Last year, however, more homeless individuals were killed in bias attacks than the sum total of American civilians killed in hate crimes (approximately 10), large commercial air crashes (no fatalities), and earthquakes (no fatalities)–combined. The fact that the 32 homeless killed in bias attacks alone in 2011 are only a portion of homeless people criminally killed each year and come from a pool of only 650,000 on any given night, makes the numbers a cause for concern. Moreover, bias motivated violence is only one of the serious dangers homeless people encounter, including exposure, hunger, accidents, disability and a lack of medical care.
One would think that with all the risks and vulnerabilities the homeless face, they would be the universal recipients of assistance and compassion. Yet among these notable risks, are violent attacks owing to nothing more than prejudice. The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) catalogued almost 1300 incidents of anti-homeless bias violence from 1999 to 2011, but these are only a small sampling of such cases, as only a sliver of non-lethal attacks are reported.
Because homicides are more likely to be reported, they are considered more reliable; although, in many instances where attackers are at large, the motive is unknown. Since 1999, the NCH annual survey has reported the number of hate-motivated anti-homeless homicides to have exceeded the total of all the hate crime homicides for every group enumerated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), except in 2003. Even more stark, is the total number of hate crime homicides against the homeless recorded by the NCH for the period of 1999-2011, at 339, is over twice the number of FBI hate crime homicides combined, at 122.
Hate crimes are offenses where a target is selected because of the actual or perceived group characteristic of another such as race, religion or sexual orientation. Over forty states and the federal government have laws that enhance penalties for hate crimes, but only a handful of states cover homeless status. Hate crime laws often enhance criminal penalties, but sometimes are solely focused on providing data collection, training, or civil remedies. After recent legislative advances where six states and Washington, D.C. have enacted hate crime legislation that covers homelessness, legislative efforts over the last two years in several other states stalled.
While most cases involve victims who are middle aged and offenders who are young adults or youths, the Kelly Thomas case put a spotlight on violent police-homeless interactions. Thomas, a mentally disabled homeless man was killed by police, three of whom have been charged in connection to his death. One former officer, Manuel Ramos, is the first police officer in Orange County, California to be charged with an on duty murder. In some jurisdictions such as Boston and Broward County, FL, police have been at the forefront of protecting the homeless, while in others like Fullerton, CA and Sarasota, FL alleged flawed police practices have been the subject of litigation. The NCH has consistently found each year, that while promising police programs exist, there are also disturbing cases of brutality and harassment. Training, reasonable discretion, and departmental policies that take into account the unique issues surrounding the homeless cannot only improve interactions between law enforcement and the homeless, but send a message to young people that such violence will not be tolerated by anyone in their communities.