We Have to Do Something: Hate Crimes on Our Streets
Crimes against people who are homeless are often unprovoked, very severe and sometimes fatal. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless document annual trends of hate crimes to bring attention to the issue. HRC’s Alexander Steacy shares report highlights and talks with Steven Samra, service provider and former consumer.
Imagine waking up to a sharp pain in your head. In the background you hear the sound of tires squealing on blacktop. This is followed by roaring laughter and someone yelling, “Take a shower, flea bag.”
Now imagine trying to fall asleep or take care of your injuries on the streets. How can you know if this will happen again? How can you rest?
Does the world really know how often this kind of violence takes place against someone who is homeless? Tragically, violence on our streets is pervasive. But what happens when crimes go unreported?
Steven Samra is a homeless service provider in Nashville, TN. He was formerly homeless, and is intimately familiar with unprovoked violence. He has heard people rationalize these acts as, “Just boys being boys.”
Two organizations are working against this injustice. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (NLCHP) and the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) have published a report together every year since 1999. The report, “Hate, Violence, And Death on Main Street USA: A Report on Hate Crimes and Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness,” documents the rising trend of violent crimes. It pulls information from newspapers, advocacy reports, and self-reports from people experiencing homelessness.
In the eight years that NCH has collected data, there have been 215 people murdered in unprovoked attacks while homeless. In contrast, only 85 are included in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s hate crime files.
The report states, “the perpetrators’ characteristics, motive, and weaponry are very similar to perpetrators who commit hate crime against all other hate crime victim groups.” The goals of NLCHP and NCH are to classify targeted violence against homeless individuals under the federal definition of a hate crime.
Several counties and states are supporting this initiative. Los Angeles County continually makes headlines about its work to enact hate crime legislation. Additionally, “Maryland would become the first state to list the homeless as a class protected from hate crimes,” writes Lisa Rein of the Washington Post.
The hardest part will be “getting folks on the street to believe it will make a difference,” says Samra. He worries about what it will take to convince people to report the violence they endure – to let them know that it will make a difference.
“I don’t know if making violence against the homeless a hate crime will work, but we have to do something.”
Read the report: Hate, Violence, And Death on Main Street USA: A Report on Hate Crimes and Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness 2007
National Coalition for the Homeless and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. “Hate, Violence, And Death on Main Street USA: A Report on Hate Crimes and Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness 2007.” Retrieved April 24, 2009, from http://www.nationalhomeless.org/getinvolved/projects/hatecrimes/hatecrimes2007.pdf
Rein, Lisa. “Maryland hate-crime law would protect homeless.” The Seattle Times. Retrieved April 24, 2009, from http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2009078501_homeless18.html
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