The attacks on homeless people has been an ongoing trend in the U.S. for more than 10 years. I was first introduced to this issue in 2000, when a homeless man who I befriended after serving him food at a shelter in Berkeley, California, told me about how he made ends meet. He mentioned to me that he had to go to an alley the next day and fight in what he called an “arena” where people would gather and select 2 homeless people to fight and the winner would get $30. Sometimes the “promoter” would make more than $200 in having 2 homeless people fight. It did not matter how much money the “promoter” was making; the winner would just get $30. When I first heard about this I was shock. I was upset. I was pissed. How could anyone do such a thing. At that time, it was the first time that I heard of such a thing in my years of homeless activism.
The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) started documenting hate crimes on homeless people in 1999. In 2001, when I was elected a board member for NCH , I remember us discussing ways to pressure the U.S. Congress for a General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation on the nature and scope of the violence and hate crimes that have been commited against people experiencing homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless has been at the forefront in bringing this attention to the mainstream media. They were instrumental in preventing the sales of Bumfights, a series of videos depicting homeless people fighting and doing stunts in exchange for money and alcohol. The Bumfights somehow attracted teeneagers and early adults when the videos were released in 2002. Many homeless and social justice activist were upset at these horrific and inhumane videos. It was those exact videos that “inspired” a lot of teenagers to go and beat homeless man with bats as they slept or go up to a homeless person and urinate on them or in some cases lit them on fire.
Last month, U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) chaired a Judiciary subcommittee hearing in Washington, DC on a legislation that he introduced last year with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act (S. 1765). If it becomes law, it would allow the FBI to gather data on crimes against people experiencing homelessness. A similar bill in the House of Representative was brought to the floor last year; H.R. 3419, sponsored by Rep. Eddie Johnson (D-Texas, 30th District). This bill would allow the Attorney General to collect data on crimes against the homeless people. Here is what U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin had to say about the legislation he introduced:
Here is a report that was shown on ABC last month that showed the reaction of people after seeing teenagers harrassed and beat a homeless man and a homeless woman.
Here is the 2009 Hate Crimes Against Homeless People Report that was put together by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Please spread this information.
Let’s attack Homelessness not Homeless People. One way to tackle this issue is by making it a priority. If Homelessness was given a budget similar to the budget that the U.S. gives to fight the war on Afghanistan, we would not have homelessness in the United States. Let us be a country that values human lives instead of oil and making few people more rich while the rest of us continue to struggle to make ends meet. Let us be a country where we are judged by how we treat our poorest of our citizens rather than being judged for how many innocent people we continue to kill in fighting unjust wars. Nas the hip hop singer said it best when in his song, RULE, he raps, “look at what this countries’ got. There shouldn’t be anybody homeless. How can the President (Nas was referring to Bush) fix other problems, when he ain’t fix home yet.”