Years of unprovoked attacks on homeless people have prompted some states and Congress to consider passing hate crime legislation that includes the homeless.
As reported by the New York Times, this October, Maryland will become the first state to include its homeless population in protections provided by laws against hate crimes. The Times reports that California, Florida, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas are considering doing the same thing. The District of Columbia recently passed a similar measure, and a federal bill was introduced in Congress last week.
The National Coalition for the Homeless recently released its annual report on hate crimes and violence against people experiencing homelessness. It found that in 2008, 27 people were killed by attacks on the homeless.
Over the past decade, there have been more than 2 1/2 times more unprovoked killings of homeless people than homicides based on race, religion, national origin, disability and sexual orientation combined, according to criminal justice professor Brian Levin.
What would including homeless people in hate crimes legislation do? It would result in stiffer sentences for people convicted of specifically targeting the homeless. As many attackers target the homeless because they perceive a lower likelihood of suffering repercussions, beefed up sentences could serve as a stronger deterrent.
According to the NCH, 43% of attacks on homeless people in 2008 were committed by those between 13 and 19 years old. And 73% were committed by people under 25.
As reported by the Times, researchers state that the perpetrators are mostly young men who simply attack the homeless for entertainment and sport -- punching, kicking, shooting, even setting fire to the most vulnerable members of our society, with death too often a result.
Though he is older than most attackers of the homeless, last Thursday 54 year old Damian Durado underscored the vulnerability of homeless people to violence. He allegedly ran wild on the streets of Hollywood, stabbing two homeless men to death and leaving two others in critical condition.