WASHINGTON, DC—The arrest of three men in July for the brutal and savage beating death of Gerald King, Jr. in West Virginia raised the issues of hate and homelessness locally and nationally.
Despite the gruesome and seemingly singular nature of King’s death, it was only one of many angry and vicious attacks committed against people experiencing homelessness during 2002.
In August, a bus driver in Los Angeles ran over a homeless man in a battle of “wills” after refusing to let the man board his bus. In October, an 18-year-old man in San Luis Obispo climbed a fence and jumped from it several times, landing on a homeless man’s head. In Springfield, Ohio another homeless man was sleeping on a porch when he was set on fire. In San Diego, three Navy men pelted homeless people with paintballs.
The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) released a four-year study examining hate crimes and violence committed against homeless people from 1999 “Hate, Violence, and Death on Main Street USA: A Report on Hate Crimes and Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness in 2002.” released by the National Coalition for the Homeless.
Over the last four years alone (1999-2002) there were 212 hate crimes or violent acts committed against people experiencing homelessness and reported to the National Coalition for the Homeless— all perpetrated by non-homeless individuals. Of these 212 attacks, 89 were non-lethal assaults, with 123 attacks resulting in death.
Shelters have received increasing reports of men, women and even children being harassed, kicked, set on fire, beaten to death, and even decapitated. These incidents took place in 98 different cities from 34 states and Puerto Rico. The youngest victim was a four month-old child; the oldest was a 74-year-old man. The overwhelming majority of the perpetrators of such crimes were teenagers and young adults.
The annual report for 2002 found that 37 hate crimes and violent acts were committed against people experiencing homelessness — all perpetrated by non-homeless individuals, with 16 resulting in death. These incidents took place in 29 cities in 16 states. The report also compiles news reports, such as the death of Gerald King, Jr., for the year and lays out recommendations to ensure that one of the most vulnerable groups in our society — people without permanent housing — are protected against hate crimes and violent acts.
Nationally, many of the crimes against homeless people go uninvestigated and few result in the attacker going to jail. Locally, many homeless people report that they are afraid to report a hate crime to the police. There were reports of a homeless man being murdered last year on the near West Side, but police did not consider the incident a crime, and Chief from Camelot was killed on the East Side, but the coroner did not rule the crime a homicide. Neither crime was listed in the report, because of lack of a police determination of a crime.
As part of the study, NCH released the most dangerous states, and the most dangerous cities in the United States. The most dangerous states include California, Colorado, Washington, Ohio, and Nevada. For a complete list see page 2. Las Vegas Nevada and Toledo Ohio authorities both disputed the findings.
In Ohio, Springfield, Ohio was cited in 2002 for the murder of a homeless man, Dennis Wade, who was set on fire in the summer of 2002. Toledo was listed as one of the most dangerous cities for a series of murders that took place between 1999 and 2000. The individuals who were killed had some affiliation with prostitution, and therefore the provider community, fearing the bad press, denied that the individuals were homeless. The police also denied that the individuals were homeless.
“Our country is in its darkest hour. As more and more men, women and children are forced into poverty by worsening economic conditions and the widening and growing gap between the rich and the poor, their cries for help are not being greeted with kindness or benevolence, but are instead being greeted with apathy, violence and hate.” stated Donald Whitehead, Executive Director of NCH. “It is time that we expose these cowardice acts against people without homes. It is time we bring this darkness to light.”
Discrimination against people experiencing homelessness is accepted in today’s society. Michael Savage, the popular host of the radio talk show “Savage Nation”, said on April 23, 2002 that, “In a sane society, they [bums] would be beaten up, thrown in a van, and thrown in a work camp.” Statements such as these reinforce negative and violent stereotypes against homeless individuals.
NCH is seeking Congress to order a General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation into the nature, and the scope of hate crimes and violent acts that occur against people experiencing homelessness.
“A GAO study is urgently needed to shed light on this frightening trend of hate crimes and violence,” said Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing for NCH. “These horrific acts of violence threaten the lives of the over 3.5 million women, men and children experiencing homelessness each year.” A Congressionally ordered study would examine perpetrators’ behavior, beliefs, prevention, education and law enforcement strategies. This request has been endorsed by over 400 local and national organizations.
For a copy of the report including a listing of all the cities in the report, please go to www.nationalhomeless.org/hatecrimes.
Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published April 2003