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Congressional Caucus on Homelessness considers Violence Against Un-Housed Persons

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Violence Against the Homeless

On July 10, NCH hosted a briefing at the capital to discuss acts of violence against the homeless and advocate for hate crimes legislation.  The importance of this issue was marked by the attendance of the four co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Homelessness: Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL-13th), Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL-23rd), Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30th), and Representative Geoff Davis (R-KY-4th).

Greg, victim of violence

All four congressional members spoke passionately about the remarkable number of violent acts against the homeless that have been recorded, as well as the overwhelming lack of data currently available.  Representative Johnson also discussed her bill, HR 3528, which would include “homeless status” in current federal Anti-Hate Crimes legislation and further require the collection of data on hate crimes committed against the homeless.

Afterwards, NCH played an equally horrifying and crucial video that displayed images of homeless individuals being beaten up.  It was difficult to watch as some of the most vulnerable members of our society were targeted and battered for circumstances outside of their control.  This video reinforced how vital hate crimes legislation is to protect the homeless.

The briefing also featured three speakers who testified about their different experiences with violence against the homeless.  The first to speak was Captain Wierzbicki of the Broward County (Florida) Sheriff’s Department who was instrumental in the passage of hate crimes legislation against the homeless in Florida in 2010.  He stressed the need for law enforcement participation in the passage of such legislation because of their role in reporting hate crimes and working with homeless individuals.

The next speaker was David Pirtle who testified as to his experience living on the streets of New York and Washington, DC due to mental illness.  Mr. Pirtle not only witnessed others being brutally beaten, but suffered abuse repeatedly himself.  His compelling story reinforced that people living on the streets are deserving of protection, particularly because of added vulnerability to the elements, illness, and hunger.

Lastly, Maria Foscarinis, current director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) and former NCH staff, testified as to the efforts by NLCHP to combat homelessness.  She drew attention to criminalization efforts across the country to penalize people for “activities of life” performed in public spaces.  She stated that access to affordable housing is a human right and that governments should seek to deal with the root causes of homelessness.  For example, permanent supportive housing has proven to be not only widely successful, but a financially responsible solution.

This event demonstrated the shared recognition amongst government officials, advocates, law enforcement, the homeless, and concerned citizens that hate crimes legislation should be expedited to protect this segment of the population. Such legislation will not only punish and deter individuals from committing bias-related crimes, but it will make a statement to the community that the homeless are deserving of such protection.

By Allison Dinmore

Violence Hidden in Plain View

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Civil Rights, Hate Crimes, Report, Violence Against the Homeless

What are crimes of hate against the homeless and why does the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) believe it’s so necessary to invest considerable time and attention into researching this issue? Admittedly, some choose to believe that the homeless don’t deserve federal and state legal protections and some draw the hard line of choosing to believe that hate crimes simply doesn’t exist.

After more than a decade of research and analysis, NCH has proven that behaviors that begin as hurtful towards the homeless often devolve into bias motivated criminal acts of hate. We are reminded of these facts all too often, in media stories that year after year possess increasingly more brutal forms of abuse.

Hurtful thoughts and acts based on the bias of one person towards another, quickly becomes a hate crime. A hurtful video game which rewards players who beat or kill homeless characters can quickly devolve into a crime of actual physical violence and hate. The taunting of people seeking refuge from the cold can overnight turn into a bias motivated act of hate-filled violence.

NCH believes that the eradication of hate crimes can only occur if there is a complete understanding and accounting of these crimes. Furthermore, there must be a willingness to challenge the motivations of people who choose to ignore the very existence of these crimes.

Each year, NCH releases a Hate Crimes against the Homeless Report. NCH invites you to read this year’s report, Violence Hidden in Plain View, a factual accounting of bias motivated crimes against un-housed individuals in the order of their occurrence. It is also a report that, in its entirety, illustrates the deadly consequences of decades of failed housing policies and social reforms.

Police Charged with Murdering California Homeless Man

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Healthcare, Mental Health, Violence Against the Homeless

Santa Ana, California — Every American has the right to self defense, even against police officers, and no one in law enforcement has the right to use unreasonable force in the performance of their duty. That was the final determination made by Tony Rachauckas, Orange County’s (CA) District Attorney, after examining evidence of the July 5th beating murder of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man whose life was brutally cut short by at least two on-duty Fullerton police officers, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli. A total of six officers were put on paid administrative leave after Thomas’ death and prior to today’s charges.

Ramos was charged with second degree murder for craven acts that “were reckless and created a high risk of death and great bodily injury” said Rachauckas. Cicinelli, the second officer charged, is now facing involuntary manslaughter and felony excessive force. The California prosecutor further described Kelly’s last moments in excruciating detail, recalling his numerous pain-filled pleas of “I’m sorry. I can’t breath. Help, Dad.”

The district attorney described the crimes against Thomas as a “violent and desperate struggle”. A full description of the event by witnesses described the shocking extent of Thomas’ injuries and the brutality of the officers’ acts. Thomas died from brain injuries, as a result of overwhelming head trauma. Thomas suffered a variety of broken bones to the nose and cheeks, head and ribs. During the assault, Thomas was shocked repeatedly by police tasers to the head, face, back and chest cavity. The medical report showed that Thomas suffered internal bleeding, causing him to choke of his own blood.

This inhumane assault on Thomas was conducted by no less than a half dozen officers responding to a call of vehicles being broken into. Following the beating, no evidence could be found in the area of vehicles burglarized, nor was any stolen property found on Thomas.

Thomas died because six officers of the Fullerton Police Department didn’t know how to react or respond to a mentally ill person in distress and crisis. When faced with a situation that caused confusion, law enforcement at the scene chose brutal force to subdue Mr. Thomas. This was not an example of appropriate police procedures gone awry. This was a clear case of criminal ignorance, which caused the death of anther human being. This could have all been avoided by the appropriate training of law enforcement in engaging a variety of types of individuals with various mental illnesses. It should have been avoided by Mr. Thomas receiving the appropriate treatment in a place he could call home.

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