The September 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Alarming Rise in Hate Crimes

Wave of Murders of Homeless Are A Warning Sign

Bumfights: An Incitement to Hate Crimes

Hate, Violence and Death on Main Street USA

Brazil Murders of Homeless Go Unsolved

Social Security Is NOT in Crisis

Time for Health Care for All

Cindy Sheehan's Unanswerable Question

Lawsuit Against California Hotel

Tribute to the Love Lotus Gave

A Mother's Plea for Homeless Son

Poor Leonard's Almanack: Carl G. Jung

Sept. Poetry of the Streets


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.

Alarming Rise in Hate Crimes Against Homeless People in United States

by Michael Stoops, National Coalition for the Homeless

"Richie." Art by Tammy Grubbs for the National Coalition for the Homeless

Over the past six years, advocates and homeless shelter workers from around the country have seen an alarming increase in reports of homeless men, women and even children being killed, beaten and harassed. The violent attacks and murders are often directed against people precisely because they are homeless, and thus constitute hate crimes.

On May 28, 2005, Michael Roberts, age 53, was beaten to death with sticks and logs by a group of teenagers who admitted to beating the homeless man just for fun. The autopsy report indicates that Roberts died of blunt-force trauma to the head and body, and suffered a fractured skull, broken ribs, badly injured legs and defensive wounds on his hands. The teens returned several times to make sure the job was done.

In September of 2004, three Milwaukee teens murdered a homeless man at his forest campsite. The teens hit 49-year-old Rex Baum with rocks, a flashlight, a bat and a pipe, then smeared feces on his face. They continued beating Baum until they thought he was dead. One of the boys "hit the victim one last time to see if he would make a sound like in Grand Theft Auto," then cut him twice with a knife to make sure he was dead. They covered his body with plastic and rocks, hoping animals would eat him before the body was discovered.

In August 2004, Curtis Gordon Adams, 33, beat and stabbed a disabled homeless man to death, and then licked the blood from his fingers on a Denver sidewalk.

In June 2004, two New York City teens kicked, punched, and finally bludgeoned 51-year-old William Pearson to death in a churchyard. Pearson crawled to the church steps before finally dying of a fractured skull. "His head was a bloody mess," one police officer noted.

Sadly, these gruesome accounts are only a few of many recent assaults and murders which demonstrate the hatred, prejudice and senseless violence faced by many of our country's homeless citizens.

Over the six-year period from 1999-2004, the National Coalition for the Homeless documented 156 murders and 386 violent acts against homeless individuals. The violent attacks occurred in 140 cities in 39 states in the United States. The homeless victims ranged in age from a four-month-old infant to a 74-year-old man.

This year's annual report on hate crimes by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) is published in full in this issue of Street Spirit. [See "Hate, Violence and Death on Main Street USA."] The NCH report carefully documents 105 hate crimes and violent acts that occurred in 2004, collected from newspapers and reports across the country. This report shows the geographical extent and the sheer savagery of this wave of hate crimes against the homeless.

Yet many of these violent acts go unpublicized or unreported, making it difficult to assess the true magnitude of the problem. Often, homeless people do not report crimes committed against them because of mental health issues, substance abuse, fear of retaliation, or frustration with the police. Some cases were also omitted because the victims were found beaten to death, but no suspects could be identified. In addition, this report does not take into account the large number of sexual assaults, especially against homeless women.

Link between hate crimes and laws that criminalize homelessness

There is a documented relationship between increased police actions that criminalize homelessness and the rising number of hate crimes and violent acts against homeless people.
It appears that violent citizens become emboldened to attack homeless people because their city has responded negatively to the homeless population. These violent attacks occur especially where the city has portrayed homeless people as the cause of unemployment, decreasing property values, vacant storefronts or other problems.

Advocates from around the country have cited the relationship between municipal laws to banish or restrict visibility of homeless people and hate crimes and violence. This overly broad enforcement of the laws passed by city governments specifically targeting homeless people are documented in NCH's Illegal to Be Homeless: The Criminalization of Homelessness in the U.S.

This survey of cities and states that violate the civil rights of homeless people concluded that California is the "meanest" state in the nation for poor and homeless people, followed by Florida, Hawaii and Texas. The NCH study also ranked four California cities as among the top 20 "meanest cities" in the nation for violating the human rights of homeless people: Berkeley, San Francisco, Fresno and Los Angeles. [See "California Named as Meanest State in the Nation," Street Spirit, December 2004.]

What is a hate crime?

The term "hate crime" generally conjures up images of cross burnings and lynchings, swastikas on Jewish synagogues, and horrific murders of gays and lesbians. Hate crimes are commonly called bias-motivated crimes, referring to the prejudice of the perpetrator against the victim's real or perceived grouping or circumstance. Most hate crimes are committed not by organized hate groups, but by individual citizens who harbor a strong resentment against a certain group of people.

In 1968, the U.S. Congress defined a hate crime, under federal law, as a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim because of their race, color or national origin.

In recent years, federal bias crime laws have been enacted to provide expanded coverage. The Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990 mandates the Justice Department to collect data from law enforcement agencies about "crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based upon race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnicity."

The Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act, enacted in 1994, defines a hate crime as a crime in which the victim is intentionally chosen "because of the actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person." This measure only applies to, among other things, attacks and vandalism that occur in national parks and on federal property.

The most recent legislation, Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2005, was introduced in the U.S. House (H.R. 2662) and U.S. Senate (S. 1145) in the 109th Congress. This legislation "authorizes the Attorney General to provide technical, forensic, prosecutorial, or other assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution of any crime that: (1) constitutes a crime of violence under Federal law or a felony under State or Indian tribal law; and (2) is motivated by prejudice based on the race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or disability of the victim or is a violation of the hate crimes laws of the State or tribe."

Hate Crime laws do not protect homeless people

There is currently no federal criminal prohibition against violent crimes directed at individuals because of their housing status, poverty or homelessness. The NCH aims to include housing status in the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2005 (H.R. 2662 and S. 1445) and in future pieces of legislation.

H.R. 2662 and S. 1445 have broad bipartisan support, but through the inclusion of housing status, hate crimes and violent acts toward people experiencing homelessness will be more appropriately handled and prosecuted. Also, if victims know that a system is in place to prosecute such crimes, they are more likely to come forward to report these crimes.

People who are forced to live and sleep on the streets for lack of an appropriate alternative are in an extremely vulnerable situation, and it is unacceptable that hate crime prevention laws do not protect them.

Recommendations for Action on Hate Crimes

The National Coalition for the Homeless recommends that the following actions be taken to address the rising number of hate crimes committed against homeless people.

1. A public statement by the U.S. Justice Department acknowledging that hate crimes and violence against people experiencing homelessness is a serious national trend.

2. The Justice Department would issue guidelines for local police on how to investigate and work with people experiencing homelessness based on recommendations from the National Coalition for the Homeless. The Justice Department would recommend improvements to state law on how to better protect against violence directed against people experiencing homelessness, including tougher penalties.

3. A database to be maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice, in cooperation with the National Coalition for the Homeless, to track hate crimes and/or violence against people experiencing homelessness.

4. Inclusion of housing status in the pending state and federal hate crimes legislation. The pending federal bill is the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2005 (H.R. 2662 in the House; S. 1145 in the U.S. Senate -- 109th Congress).

5. Sensitivity/Awareness training at police academies and departments nationwide for trainees and police officers on how to deal effectively and humanely with people experiencing homelessness in their communities.

6. A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) study into the nature and scope of hate crimes and/or violent acts and crimes that occur against people experiencing homelessness. This proposed study will address the following:
a) Causes of hate crimes/violence.
b) Circumstances that contribute to or were responsible for the perpetrators' behavior.
c) Beliefs held by the perpetrators of these crimes and how their beliefs have changed since conviction.
d) Thoughts and advice from the perpetrators to others who are considering hate crimes/violence against the homeless population.
e) Community education, prevention and law enforcement strategies.

For more information about hate crimes against homeless people, contact:
Michael Stoops
National Coalition for the Homeless
2201 P St. NW
Washington, DC 20037-1033
Phone: (202) 462-4822 ext. 19

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

E-mail: Spirit

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Editor : Terry Messman

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