The April 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

US Government Created Housing Shortages

Hate Crimes in S.F. and Boston

Urban Removal in S.F. Bayview

Stop Bulldozers of Gentrification

The Death of Two Eloquent Homeless Voices

Grandmother Is Left Homeless by Car Wreck

Building Strong Unions on U.S./ Mexico Border

Transit Justice Is Derailed

Poor People Use the Internet to Organize

Just Wage for All

Ruling Class Runs Economy into the Ground

Art & Altruism: The Paintings of Elizabeth King

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Writers

April Poetry of the Streets


March 2006

February 2006

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.

Hate Crimes in the Nation's Most Liberal Cities

Editorial by Terry Messman

(Flowers). Painting by Jonathan Burstein. In San Francisco, a homeless man was brutally assaulted outside a flower shop in the middle of the night.

Assaults and murders of homeless people often occur in the dead of night. This is the dark night of the soul. It falls every night, in every city, from sea to shining sea.

San Francisco and Boston are two of the most liberal cities in the nation. Yet last month, two of the most progressive and affluent cities in America became home to two of the most vicious hate crimes imaginable.

As if to graphically reveal the geographic extent of this coast-to-coast outbreak of hate crimes, a homeless man was beaten savagely at about 4:30 a.m. on Sunday, March 5, in San Francisco, while another homeless man was set on fire about 3,000 miles away in Boston, just before 2 a.m. on March 5.

Homeless father set on fire

A 30-year-old homeless father of three was set on fire by two assailants in Boston's North End. The homeless man, Scott, was kicked awake in the middle of the night by two men who called him "a homeless bum," and then was pinned down, drenched with gasoline, and set ablaze. A passerby may have saved his life by calling the police. The Boston Herald reported that "flames from his body shot 5 feet into the air."

Scott, the homeless father, said that prior to the attack, many people had shouted at him: "Get a life! Get a job!" Yet he had fractured three vertebrae in his back last December and was unable to work.

The Herald quoted his harrowing description of being set on fire. "I was screaming," Scott said. "I could feel my skin melting. I just kicked off my shoes and shucked my pants off. Oh, it hurt."

At nearly the same time on the West Coast, three young men brutally attacked, clubbed and kicked a homeless man who had been sleeping harmlessly outside a florist ship in San Francisco's Chinatown. A security camera posted at Ed Jew's flower shop showed three men in their 20s repeatedly kicking and beating the helpless man.

Ed Jew is a member of Mayor Gavin Newsom's Commission on Homelessness; and because he had a security camera filming the beating, the public was given a shockingly direct picture of the hatred and brutality directed against a homeless man. CBS Channel 5 news televised the video of the attack for everyone to see.

Ed Jew told police that the man was harmless and always cleaned up after himself after sleeping quietly through the night. After the attack, the homeless man fled his encampment. That may be the exact message intended by those who commit hate crimes: Homeless people are despised and will be driven out.

That is also the exact message intended by Mayor Newsom's administration when it issues tens of thousands of citations that make homelessness a crime: Homeless people are unwanted and will be driven out of San Francisco.

Mayor Newsom's responsibility

When reporters questioned Trent Rhorer, Newsom's architect of homeless policies and the man responsible for implementing the heartless Care Not Cash scheme that strips away nearly all of a homeless person's welfare check, Rhorer merely commented that homeless people should know it's "unsafe" to sleep outside. Rhorer told Channel 5 news that this was a clear example of violence against homeless people, adding, "It's common. People don't like homeless people."

What Rhorer failed to admit is that people in liberal San Francisco don't like homeless people in large part because Newsom and Rhorer have spent most of the last four years denouncing and condemning the poor for being useless derelicts who eat up the city's welfare budget.

Newsom ran for mayor on a platform that focused on cruelly attacking homeless people. He cynically advanced his electoral prospects by pushing for a measure to criminalize panhandling, and another measure to confiscate homeless people's meager General Assistance checks.

How completely intolerable it is, then, for Newsom's mouthpiece Trent Rhorer to blandly attempt to explain away the beating by saying, "It's common. People don't like homeless people." Newsom and Rhorer bear enormous blame for the public dislike of homeless people and for fostering an anti-homeless atmosphere.

Virtually every year, San Francisco has been rated as among the "20 Meanest Cities" in the country by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The city received this shameful mark of notoriety for mayoral crackdowns and police abuse of homeless people -- acts of systematic police repression directed by Mayors Willie Brown and Gavin Newsom.

Michael Stoops, acting director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, pointed out a direct link between city governments that criminalize the homeless and the rise in hate crimes.

Stoops said: "There is a documented relationship between increased police actions and the increasing numbers of hate crimes and violent acts against homeless people. It seems that disturbed violent people take a cue from their cities' responses to homelessness and become emboldened with more violent attacks if the city has portrayed homeless people as the cause of unemployment, decreasing property values, or vacant storefronts."

Dark Night of the Soul

The eerie timing and coincidence of these brutal assaults in San Francisco and Boston in the middle of the night reminded me of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald's reflection: "In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day."

In a very real sense, every unsheltered person in America is living in a never-ending dark night of the soul that is far worse than the one Fitzgerald described so memorably. Every night, in every city across the land, homeless people are subjected, not only to the psychological fears and phantom terrors that Fitzgerald knew so well; but on top of that, they suffer the all-too-real traumas of hunger, sickness, and the freezing cold, and the ever-present fears of assault, rape, murder and aggressive police raids.

Fitzgerald used the phrase, "the dark night of the soul," first described by St. John of the Cross, to conjure up the disturbing fears, the nightmarish anxieties and the existential torments that can haunt one in the middle of the night.

The great novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his short story, "The Haunted Mind," also described that disquieting moment of awakening in the darkest hours of the night, when everything looks more bleak and fearful and hopeless. Hawthorne wrote: "But sometimes, and oftenest at midnight, those dark receptacles are flung wide open."

During those long moments when every tick of the clock brings, not sleep, but disturbing doubts and phantom fears that sap one's strength, even a famous writer in a comfortable bed, even a Hawthorne or Fitzgerald, must struggle to overcome a sense of despair, and must strive to believe that life will still have meaning in the morning.

But now add homelessness into the equation. For homeless people, all those existential anxieties are worsened by the torments of cold and hunger and loneliness during the long, dangerous nights. Then, multiply all that by the terrible fear of assault, maiming and murder by assailants who approach in the dark and beat people to death without warning.

This is the dark night of the soul multiplied by physical anguish and, in too many cases, by death. This is the dark night when you encounter human evil at its most disturbing, directed right at you.

This is the dark night when you realize that mainstream society has cast you out, and your political leaders have passed laws condemning your very existence, and some of your fellow citizens want you to disappear, and others want you dead.

Why did these attacks in Boston and San Francisco occur in the dead of night? These are the hours when hate-filled people can attack under cover of darkness, then escape unseen into the night. These are the hours when a homeless person is most vulnerable, isolated and unprotected on the unsafe streets. These are the hours when unsheltered people have been utterly abandoned by society.

This is the dark night of the soul. It falls every night and in every city, from sea to shining sea.

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