Maryland has refined what constitutes a hate crime after becoming the first state to include homeless people in its hate crimes law. This new law, signed on May 7, 2008 by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley , allows prosecutors to seek harsher penalties for those who specifically target a person because he or she is homeless. Maryland’s hate crimes law already covers those who are targeted because of their race, color, national origin, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, but homeless advocates thought it important that the homeless were included in the law because many homeless people are vulnerable to attacks simply because they are homeless.
The National Coalition for the Homeless estimated that there were at least four hate crimes committed against homeless people in 2007 in Maryland alone, and 774 attacks nationwide between 1999 and 2007, 217 of which were fatal. Supporters of the legislation hope the bill, which goes into effect October 1, will promote increased awareness for homeless people. Similar legislation will be reintroduced in Ohio this year.
Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue #87 in July 2009 in Cleveland Ohio.