The Growing Movement to Make Attacks Against Homeless People a Hate Crime

Seven states have tweaked their hate crime laws so that attacks on homeless people based on race, religion and sexual orientation garner longer prison sentences. 

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A person in economic difficulty holds a homemade sign asking for money along a New York City street on Dec. 4, 2013. 

 

 

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Seven states are looking to stop attacks on homeless people who are being targeted because of their race, religion and sexual orientation. Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington have all tweaked their hate crime laws so that these kinds of attacks will earn perpetrators longer prison sentences, Al-Jazeera reports.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has “identified 1,437 acts of violence against the homeless by non-homeless people from 1999 to 2013, with 357 fatalities.”

These numbers have launched an effort by states to investigate how homeless people are subjected to this kind of violence and what that means to law enforcement. A recent incident in Albuquerque, N.M., is giving “rise to questions about the relationship between the homeless and the police in a city where a U.S. Justice Department investigation found police used a pattern of excessive force against citizens,” the report stated.

The issue is of particular concern to the nation’s Native American communities, which are often underserved. Another group that plays an important role in this growing epidemic: young people.

“The perpetrators are getting younger,” Jennifer Metzler, the executive director of a New Mexico-based advocacy group for homelessness, explained. 

There’s also the idea that homeless people are easy prey, which makes them vulnerable to attacks.

“It kind of disturbs me that the assumption out there in the general public is that many of the homeless are just drunks, they’re alcoholics,” Lauren Bernally, a worker with the human rights legislative group Commission, said.

“That’s not true. There needs to be a lot of public education.”

Read more at Al-Jazeera.