The February 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Top 20 Meanest Cities in U.S.

Hate Crimes in Fort Lauderdale

Classism in the Stacks: Libraries and Poor People

Housing Authority's Kafka-Style Interrogation

Bay Area Transit: Separate and Unequal

Lawsuit on Behalf of East Bay Bus Riders

MLK Would Tell Congress to Value Workers

Art, Music for Homeless Kids

Mercy: A Story

The Birdman of Berkeley

Resisting Unjust Corporate Power

President Bush Speaks His Mind

Street Spirit Poetry


January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Fort Lauderdale Teens Arrested for Brutal Murder of Homeless People

by Jeremy Swift

Homeless people are isolated, unprotected and highly vulnerable to violent attacks and hate crimes. Lydia Gans photo

Sean Cononie is convinced we are dealing with a wave of hate crimes of epic proportions. "Hate crimes are on the rise for the homeless and other individuals," he said. "It goes back to education and teaching correct values."

When homeless individuals in Fort Lauderdale and South Florida go to seek shelter tonight -- a refuge from the cold weather sweeping through the area -- they will be able to sleep with a little more ease. Thomas S. Dougherty, age 17, and Brian A. Hooks, 18, the two suspects captured by a security camera while attacking a homeless man, were turned in today by their families.

Captain Michael Gregory released a statement informing the public that the families of Dougherty and Hooks turned the teenagers over to police at 9:45 a.m. on January 15, 2006. "They were both quiet, polite and cooperative," Gregory said of the two young suspects. He also stated that they invoked their right to silence and the presence of an attorney.

Dougherty and Hooks are facing charges of aggravated battery for attacking Jacques Pierre, 58, and for the murder of Norris Gaynor, 45. The third victim, 49-year-old Raymond Perez, who was beaten outside Church-by-the-Sea, is also believed to be another of Dougherty and Hooks' targets, having been attacked just one hour after Gaynor was assaulted.

The nation watched the video footage as Pierre was beaten with what looked to be baseball bats by the two teenagers around 1 a.m., on Thursday, January 12, outside of Florida Atlantic University's downtown campus in Fort Lauderdale.

"Everyone saw the footage," Gregory said. This footage, as he notes, was also a critical piece of evidence that aided in the capture of the two males. The authorities received more than 100 tips that led to the arrest of Dougherty and Hooks.

Sean Cononie, the founder of the Homeless Voice newspaper and an advocate on hate crimes towards the homeless, said he is glad the suspects were caught. However, not only does he show empathy towards the victims and the victims' families, but he also shows empathy for the teenagers and their families.

Cononie said, "It's a terrible time for the parents of the suspects as well as the kids. I am sure these kids were not brought up by their parents to kill people minding their own business and for no apparent reason -- as if there could be."

Despite the concern for all the people involved, Cononie is convinced we are dealing with a wave of hate crimes of epic proportions. "Hate crimes are on the rise for the homeless and other individuals," Cononie said. "It goes back to education and teaching correct values."

Although the crimes committed have not been directly linked to hate, Scott Russell, a reserve officer in Ft. Lauderdale, sees unlawful death as just that. "Murder is the ultimate hate crime!"

Jeremy Swift wrote this article for the Homeless Voice newspaper in Florida.

Society Must Act to Stop Hate Crimes

by the National Coalition for the Homeless

In recent days, the media has immersed American viewers in the brutal reality and the vulnerability associated with living on the streets. On the early morning of Thursday, January 12, 2006, two teenage boys were caught on surveillance video viciously attacking a defenseless homeless man while he was sleeping in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Though the man survived, a few hours later the teens, along with a third accomplice not caught on tape, struck again, this time succeeding in killing a different homeless man. The teens, after fatally beating the second homeless man, went on to a final attack, critically injuring a third man who was also sleeping on the streets.

Fortunately, in the second case, two of the teens were caught on film, demonstrating substantial evidence about the plague of hate crimes and violence against those who live on the streets.

In this instance, the perpetrators were caught on film. Hidden from most Americans, however, is the number of shocking crimes committed nationwide against people experiencing homelessness each year. Homeless men, women, and children around the nation are particularly vulnerable to crimes because they represent an easy, visible, susceptible target and often lack a place to retreat for safety and protection.

Across the nation, people experiencing homelessness, advocates, and service providers report an alarming epidemic of hate crimes and violent murders, arson, harassment, and damage of personal property. Thrill seekers, primarily in their teens and early twenties, are the most common perpetrators of the violence.

This trend has been exacerbated by the proliferation of "Bum Videos" in which homeless people are coerced to perform degrading and dangerous beatings and stunts for money, alcohol, or food.

There is so much that we, along with the Florida Legislature and U.S. Congress, can do to protect one of the most vulnerable populations in our society. It is time for legislation to be introduced in both the Florida Legislature and the U.S. Congress adding homelessness to existing hate crimes statutes. Until such legislation is passed, we strongly propose that law enforcement agencies keep track of hate crimes and violence against people experiencing homelessness.

Along with this important first action, there also needs to be adequate numbers of beds in the shelters and an increase in outreach efforts. We need good citizens and Samaritans out on the streets to be watchful when homeless people are attacked, along with providing help. This will hopefully serve as a deterrent for young people who might be considering copycat attacks. By doing so, those living on the streets may be rescued from becoming victims of hate-crime violence.

Not only should law enforcement be encouraged to handle this cause, but also those experiencing homelessness themselves could begin participating in a crime prevention patrol which would involve the homeless population in preserving their own well-being. Outfitting these patrollers with safety alert devices would allow efficient contact to emergency agencies, such as fire and ambulance companies. Homeless service providers should offer self-defense classes, like those that provide self-defense for women, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations.

Our best recommendation would be for schools to invite homeless advocates and homeless people to make class presentations. These speakers would share their personal stories and answer questions from the students, breaking down stereotypes, prejudices, and revealing the humanity of homeless people.

The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) operates the "Faces of Homelessness" Speakers' Bureau, making nearly 300 presentations a year, reaching a combined audience of 17,000 people, primarily high school students. This is our most important public education strategy.

We send our deepest condolences to the family, friends, and acquaintances of the most recent victims of hate crimes and violence against people experiencing homelessness, as well as everyone else living on the streets that falls victim to such outrageous violent attacks.

Since 1999, the NCH, the oldest and largest national homeless advocacy group, has spearheaded an investigative analysis of hate crimes/violence against people experiencing homelessness, much like the Fort Lauderdale attack. What happened in Fort Lauderdale is typical of what is happening across the nation.

To read about incidences around the country, please read our 2004 hate crimes/violence report, entitled "Hate, Violence and Death on Main Street USA, 2004." This can be found on our website under "Civil Rights." The report for 2005 will be released in the coming weeks.

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