August 20, 2009

Homeless Gain Further Hate Crime Protections

Homeless people are gradually being included in hate crimes laws, as the number of fatal attacks on the homeless remains steady even as overall attacks decline.

Last November, Newsdesk.org tracked reports of sometimes deadly attacks on homeless people around the nation, and noted both skepticism about claims of a trend in hate crimes, as well as new protections against such attacks.

At the state level, these included emerging regulations in Florida, California, Massachusetts, Alaska, Ohio and Washington.

Now, other states are starting to give homeless individuals the same legal status afforded other groups protected by hate-crime legislation, according to recent reports in the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.

In May, Maryland became the first to take action, when a Republican lawmaker added homelessness to a hate-crimes bill — to illustrate what he thought was the absurdity of assigning certain groups protected-class status.

Yet Rep. Alex Mooney had a change of heart after watching a video of a homeless man being attack with a baseball bat.

In Los Angeles, county supervisors have authorized police to gather data and identify similar attacks as hate crimes, while the Washington, D.C., city council created mew protections for the homeless.

Nationally, Texas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson reintroduced an amendment to existing federal law, with 13 lawmakers cosponsoring HR 3419.

In a New York Times interview, she disputes claims by opponents, such as the Anti-Defamation League, that to include homeless people as a protected class would diminish hate-crime laws.

“I hear the same rhetoric all the time. They ask, ‘Why is their life more important than anyone else’s?'” Johnson told the newspaper.

According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, assaults have predominately been at the hands of males under 25 years old. For the second year in the row, Florida and California lead the nation in reported attacks.

The latest statistics from the National Coalition for the Homeless find that fatalities held steady in 2008, despite a substantial decrease in overall attacks.

Overall, the groups says that there have been 880 attacks against homeless people in the last decade, resulting in 244 deaths.

–T.J. Johnston/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“New Report Documents 10 Years of Anti-Homeless Violence”
National Coalition for the Homeless news release, August 7, 2009

“Attacks on Homeless Excluded From Crime Data: Advocates”
Newsdesk.org, November 12, 2008

“LA County To Track Violence Against Homeless People”
Los Angeles Times, March, 24, 2009

“Hate Crime Bill Might Make Maryland a Pioneer”
Washington Post, April 17, 2009

“Attacks on Homeless Bring Push on Hate Crime Laws”
New York Times, August 8, 2009

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