News Analysis by Brian Davis
Recent attacks by the City of Cleveland on homeless people has led to an escalation of hate crimes by private citizens directed at people without houses. Homeless activists are calling on City leaders to put the full weight of the justice system against those assaulting homeless people with the strongest punishments possible. The last two weeks in April, young white males in a Blue Chevy Caprice have been throwing bottles from their moving vehicle at homeless people sleeping downtown.
In 1999, 33 homeless people were killed across the United States for the crime of being poor and without a home. The National Coalition for the Homeless issued a report in January detailing an increase in hate crimes directed at homeless people. From California to Toledo, NCH presented the gruesome crimes of hate, which were mostly unsolved. From serial killers in Denver and Toledo targeting homeless people to isolated incidence of men beheaded, set on fire, and stabbed. The March issue of the Grapevine featured a story of a man who used a paint gun to assault homeless people on Superior Ave.
I believe that Mayor White is responsible for thee acts. Mayor Michael White’s policy of sweeping homeless people off of the sidewalk dehumanizes our displaced citizens. This allows less tolerant, uneducated and disturbed individuals to physically attack and harass those they see as human rubbish with what they perceive as the tacit approval of the municipal government. We are not seeing the ramifications of Mayor White’s policy with regular attacks on homeless people. These are the same trends being seen throughout the country.
The Cleveland Police refuse to address this situation with any seriousness. Third District officials said that the crime is at most a misdemeanor, and referred the complaints to the City Prosecutor, Edward Lauriano was sleeping in his car and followed the four alleged criminals as they bought additional glass bottles from a gas station. They traveled all over the Downtown area and Flats attacking over one dozen homeless people. The four young white men yelled racial and derogatory epithets out of the window as they carry out the attacks. They have done this every night at 2:30 a.m. for over two weeks. Lauriano was able to get their license plate number, and could identify the individual who bought the bottles. With all the evidence, the police have not responded, and the prosecutor’s office said it would be a hard case to make.
This is a hate crime directed at homeless people, and if we allow it to continue it can only lead to an escalation. The law enforcement community has let us down on this issue. We can only hope that leaders in the community will step forward to stop these crimes. It is to the point that we have to construct our own system to gather the evidence, arrest the criminals, and prosecute them. Or will a tragedy occur before we see serious attention devoted to these hate crimes. Many homeless people have left the sidewalks to seek more remote areas to seek shelter. This makes it more difficult for outreach workers to assist those displaced citizens.
It is no longer acceptable to insult minority groups in polite company, and homosexuals have gained a level of hard fought respect in society, but homeless people are still targets. We hear negative stereotypes on local morning radio shows and on television. People who would never use a racial slur have no problem with talking about lazy bums who are all criminals. And not we are seeing violence against people who’s only crime is being poor. In a country “conceived in liberty…in which all men are created equal” how can we let this happen?
Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue # 42 - 2000