Saturday, February 16, 2008

Hate Crimes Against Homeless People

New York Times Takes Up Hate Crimes

The New York Times on Thursday took up the issue of attacks on homeless people. The problem is especially acute in Florida, and the National Coalition has taken up the challenge by putting together a homeless curriculum as well as a Statewide VISTA program to educate young people against violence. Despite all the attacks, not one state has passed a homeless hate crimes bill. Five states rejected the idea in 2007. Ohio will take up the issue in 2008 with a bill introduced by State Representative Michael Foley.

We see the need for this bill after a heinous attack in January in Akron. According to the Plain Dealer, five individuals kidnapped a homeless person, burned the man, and assaulted him over two days. The victim, John Rice, spent three days in the hospital and will need continued medical treatment. One of the strange correlations is that the meaner the City is to homeless people the more likely that citizens will attack homeless people. Florida has repeatedly been selected by the National Coalition as one of the meanest states in the United States toward homeless people. The Coalition gave Akron an award last year as the Roadblock of the Year for their horrible panhandling law. It seems as though when a city passes a law at a specific population like homeless people, it is a signal to the citizens especially young people that it is open season on that group. It is almost like it is a signal to a disturbed, unstable, and frightened group that the municipal government will ignore crimes against this largely forgotten and isolated population residing on the streets of everyone of the major cities in the United States.

If you talk to your local Ohio State representative ask them to support HR 419, the homeless hate crimes bill. It would allow prosecutors to ask for additional penalties if a person is convicted of a hate crime against homeless people. Thanks.

Brian Davis
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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