For five years, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has tracked a disturbing increase in crimes targeting those experiencing homelessness by young people and severely disturbed individuals. These are well-documented violent attacks on homeless people that result in injury and in many cases death of a vulnerable population. NCH published the report, “Hate, Violence and Death on Main Street USA: A Report on Hate Crimes and Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness,” to document data from news reports and homeless shelters on the number of homeless victimizations that have occurred in the past five years (1999-2003). The report was released on June 15, 2004. It is available from the National Coalition for the Homeless website (www.nationalhomeless.org) or as a link on the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless website (www.neoch.org)
There was a joint press conference held in Los Angeles, California and Cleveland to release the report and criticize major corporate retailers trading in exploitation. In Cleveland, the focus was on the hate crimes report and the plan for how to stop future attacks. The Cleveland Coalition will also identify the national retailers who are profiting from the sale of hate videos showing homeless people being attacked, exploited and abused for entertainment. In March of 2004, nine large national retailers were selling these hate videos. After the press conference in the three cities, all of the retailers pulled the videos from their inventory.
In Downtown Cleveland, four perpetrators, aged 16 to 19, who videotaped the attack, used a 50,000-volt stun gun to shock homeless people in their genitals; they also kicked and reportedly urinated on one, all while laughing. Of the accused, three are juveniles, and were charged with delinquency assault. The one adult, Joshua Langenheim, 19, was charged with six counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of possession of a criminal tool. In the State of Ohio, assaulting a homeless person is not seen to be, by law, a hate crime. NEOCH will release the plan for how to address the assault on homeless people in the future.
Marty Gelfand from Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s office attended the release and voiced his offices support for the General Accounting Office doing a study on the rise in attacks.
2003 Hate Crimes/Violence Report specifics
The most recent hate crimes/violence report, from 2003, documented 61 non-lethal attacks and 9 deaths committed against people experiencing homelessness. These crimes occurred in 36 cities and 22 states and Puerto Rico.
1999 – 2003
• Total number of violent acts over 5 years: 281
• Total number of deaths over 5 years: 131
• Total number of non-lethal attacks over 5 years: 150
• Number of cities where crimes occurred: 119
• Number of states, plus Puerto Rico, where crimes occurred: 38
• Age ranges of the Accused/Convicted: From 11 to 65 yrs
• Age ranges of the Victims: From 4 months old to 74 yrs.
• Gender of Victims
• Male: 229 Female: 34
Video Exploitation of Homeless People
The National Coalition for the Homeless has also been documenting the rise of hate speech in the United States directed at homeless people. Advocates are now tracking a disturbing trend of “Bum Videos” since 2001, in which homeless people are coerced to perform degrading and dangerous stunts for money, alcohol or food. Five different videos have been produced in the past four years: “Bum Fights,” “Bum Fights 2,” “Bum Hunts,” “Bum Show.com,” and “Bag Lady Beatings.”
In some of the more severe video scenes:
1. A homeless man drinks urine he perceives is a beer.
2. A homeless man runs head first into a stack of crates for a nickel.
3. A homeless man with drug addiction problems sets his hair on fire.
4. A man, pretending to be Steve Irwin of “Crocodile Hunter” fame, calls himself the “Bum Hunter.” He chases and tackles some homeless people, while sneaking up on others who are lying down. He sits on top of them, ties their hands and feet together with duct tape and makes remarks as if they were animals (“this one is a fine species”, “a small guy like this is very susceptible to predators”, “look he has got no teeth, smoking crack deteriorates your gums”, and “I want to look in his cart to see what he has stolen”). He also makes degrading comments such as, “if I came in here with a brand new bandage (to fix a homeless man’s arm), he would immediately try to rip it off because he doesn’t know the smell, he thinks it’s new, and we all know that bums don’t wear new clothes, they only wear old clothes.”
5. A homeless man is offered a quarter to drink Windex. He takes a gulp of the bottle for 1 dollar. He is shown vomiting shortly afterwards.
6. A man shoots potatoes and apples at homeless people with a “Bum Gun.” He knocks down a homeless man on crutches; he shoots one in the head; he shoots another in the back, etc.
Corporations Marketing Homeless Exploitation
Recently, major corporate retailers including Tower Records, Amazon, Borders, Virgin Mega Stores, Target, Best Buy, Blockbuster, Barnes and Noble and Trans World Entertainment have found it acceptable to sell these videos and DVDs in their stores or on their Internet sites or both. Best Buy was the one retailer held out for special condemnation in Cleveland for continuing to sell the video “Bum Hunts” in stores and on their internet site until the press conference.
The National Coalition for the Homeless, the oldest and largest national homeless advocacy organizations in the United States, aims to protect the rights of homeless people. NCH has sent letters, faxes and e-mails asking mainstream retailers to:
a. Immediately stop selling these videotapes or DVDs, and destroy the current inventory.
b. Turn over the profits from the sale of these violent videotapes to an agency of their choosing that serves homeless people.
c. Pledge to never purchase these violent exploitative films that depict homeless people as props in a voyeuristic display of depravity.
As of June 17, 2004, the retail corporations have responded to NCH’s request accordingly:
Have Stopped Selling Hate:
• Virgin Mega Stores
• Barnes and Noble
• Best Buy
• FYE Entertainment
• Tower Records
Request for General Accounting Office Investigation (GAO)
Homeless men, women, and children around the nation are particularly vulnerable to crimes against them because they represent an easy, visible target and often lack a place to retreat for safety and protection. U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) is calling for a General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation to assist Congress and the public in obtaining much-needed information on the extent and scope of violent acts and crimes against people experiencing homelessness. The study would examine perpetrators’ behavior, prevention, education and law enforcement strategies. Furthermore, such an investigation would help federal, state, and local officials identify actions that could be taken to prevent and reduce such crimes. This request has been endorsed by nearly 500 local and national organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Council of La Raza, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National League of Cities, National Organization of Women (NOW), and Volunteers of America
In Cleveland, Congressman Dennis Kucinich wrote to Attorney General John Ashcroft asking for an investigation of the stun gun attacks and a rise in hate crimes directed at homeless people. In August of 2003, in both Cleveland and Chicago, young people were caught videotaping themselves hurting homeless people. The Justice Department never did respond to the Congressman’s call for an investigation.
Also in the report is an overview of the alarming rise in the marketing of homeless exploitation with “shock jocks” using homeless people as props in disgusting stunts around the country. There was a hoax in Cleveland with a radio station claiming to pay homeless people to have themselves stunned. There was also a college editor in Dayton calling on students to run down homeless people with their cars.
Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published July 2004 Issue 65B