In 1968, the U.S. Congress defined a hate crime as an offense in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the offense, because of their race, color or national origin (Title 18 U.S.C Section 245). Federal bias crime laws enacted subsequently have provided additional coverage. These laws include:
• The Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 (HCSA) authorized the Justice Department to collect data from law enforcement agencies about crimes that “manifest evidence of prejudice based upon race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.” The Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act would amend (HCSA) to include homeless persons as a protected class.
• The Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act, enacted as a section of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, defines hate crimes as “a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.” This measure only applies to attacks and vandalism that occur in national parks and on federal property.
• HCSA requires the U.S. Department of Justice to monitor and record data from law enforcement agencies on any crime classified as a hate crime in addition to publishing an annual report summarizing their findings.
• The Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Enforcement Act would amend the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to include homeless persons as a protected class, making any targeted act of violence due to homeless status classifiable as a hate crime.
Most hate crimes/violent acts are not committed by organized hate groups, but by individual citizens who harbor a strong resentment against a certain group of people. Thrill seekers, primarily in their teens, are the most common perpetrators of violence against people who are homeless. In 2012:
• 79% of attacks were committed by people under the age of 30
• 96% of perpetrators were men
• 21% of attacks ended in death
Victims have included homeless men and women, veterans, children as young as four, youth, and elders.
Hate crimes demand a priority response because of their special emotional and psychological impact on the victim and the victim’s community. The damage done by hate crimes cannot be measured solely in terms of physical injury or dollars and cents. Hate crimes may effectively intimidate other members of the victim’s community, leaving them feeling isolated, vulnerable and unprotected by the law.
Current hate crimes laws were passed before the phenomenon of homeless-victim hate crimes were well-documented. Now it is time to improve the tracking and enforcement systems already in place. Homeless status should be added to hate crimes reporting and enforcement statutes so that law enforcement agencies will uniformly and consistently report hate crimes against homeless people and so that preventive and corrective actions could be taken accordingly.
- More about Criminalization of Homelessness