HUFFINGTON POST June 11, 2010 

Brian Levin, J.D. and Jack Levin, Ph.D.  Posted: December 21, 2009
11:31 AM In a Season of Compassion, Let's Stop Hate Killings of the
The Invisible Hate Crime

Hate crime legislation is aimed at protecting the most defenseless
among us who are targeted out of prejudice--minority families who
relocate to a previously all-white neighborhood where they are met
with a burning cross and a threatening phone call rather than the
welcome wagon; gay college students who are assaulted by their
schoolmates because they are different; the first Latino employee in
an office who is warned to leave the company before it is too late.

Clearly, of all those who are targeted for prejudice, homeless members
of society are among the most vulnerable of all. They are literally
hunted down by everyone from violent racist skinheads to groups of
bored and idle teenagers and young adults who get a sadistic thrill
out of beating, burning or drowning to death helpless street people.
In our highly competitive and increasingly coarse society, negative
stereotypes about difference, appearance, and the worth of the poor
label the homeless as disposable people. Class based prejudice, which
sometimes overlaps with racial hatred among others, remains one of the
last widely acceptable forms of intolerance. Yet, homelessness
continues to be excluded from most hate crime legislation at the state
and federal level. While about a dozen states including California and
New York have considered such measures, only Maryland, Maine and the
District of Columbia have added homeless status to their hate crime

Hate for A Thrill

Just like teenagers who target Blacks, Muslims, or Latinos, those
youngsters out for a thrill who attack homeless people get little more
than bragging rights with their friends who think that violence is
pretty cool. Their shared violence becomes a bonding ritual, not
unlike attacks by gangs or the hazing rituals in some fraternities.
The sadism in their crimes may originate in the thinking of one or two
cruel but influential members of the group The others are "fellow
travelers" who really go along to get along. The last thing they want
is to be rejected by their friends. 

In order to reminisce about the cherished moments they share causing
pain and suffering on the streets, youthful perpetrators have actually
been known to videotape their tortures--spurred on by the advent of
small cheap video cameras, social Internet media and a series of
horrendous commercial "bumfights" videos. In the background, through
the horrific screams of their victims, the perpetrators can be heard
laughing uncontrollably. In their minds, homeless people deserve their
fate; they are viewed as nothing more than garbage or trash to be
eliminated from the streets. As with other hate crime offenders, these
attackers are typically young male "thrill offenders" seeking
excitement and peer validation. Fifty-eight percent of those attacking
the homeless over the past 10 years are in the 13-19 age group. These
thrill offenders, like the more hardened racist skinhead perpetrators,
view attacking the homeless as nothing more than a fun communal way of
simply cleaning the streets of filth, an activity to be respected
rather than reviled. 

An Acceptable Form of Prejudice

Sadly, those young people who attack the homeless reflect a more
general prejudice. Homeless people are generally regarded as the dregs
of society--as chronically filthy, lazy, passed-out drunk, alone,
psychotic, and worthless. They are typically seen as bums who refuse
to take a job, beg for money and act violently. Youths pick up and act
on a combination of messages sent to them by adults. Whether it be in
sporting events, reality television, movies or politics coarse,
outrageously dangerous, and even violent behavior is portrayed as
funny, cool, and strategically smart. Several months ago Maxim, a
youth-oriented magazine targeted at college-aged males, mocked the
National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa, in a blurb titled "Hunt the
Homeless." The journal directed its readers to "Kill one for fun.
We're 87 percent sure it's legal."

Even Americans who express some sympathy for the homeless tend to
accept the stereotype that all of them are motivated by drug and
alcohol abuse as well as serious mental illness rather than by such
factors as job loss or conflict at home as well. Many Americans also
stereotype the homeless as single, working-age men who live, for long
periods of time, on the sidewalks, under bridges, on park benches, and
in shelters. Actually, more than 40% of the homeless consist of
children under the age of five. Moreover, more than two-thirds of
homeless teenagers only stay on the streets long enough to resolve
their family conflicts and go home. Homeless people come from all
walks of life. With the unemployment rate at an exceptionally high 10%
nationally, the economic situations of both professional and
working-class families can quickly deteriorate into a vicious cycle of
job loss, financial problems, health issues, and enormous debt. For
some, living on the streets or in a shelter may be their only

In the 1980s and 1990s, Americans discovered hate crimes committed
because of a victim's race or religious identity. More recently, we
discovered hate crimes based on a victim's sexual orientation, gender,
gender identity and disability status. In 2009-2010, it is about time
that we turn our attention to the plight of homeless people who are
being attacked in growing numbers, based simply on an ugly stereotype.
As both Christmas, New Years and the longest night of the season
approach it is time that all people of good will turn their compassion
for the less fortunate into action. This week across the nation vigils
are being held on December 21 to remember the homeless, while many
others will turn their Christmas Day into a day not only of prayer,
but of selfless service to the less fortunate. 

Hate Crimes Against The Homeless Statistics Act

We can also support legislation known as the Hate Crimes Against the
Homeless Statistics Act (S. 1765) which has been placed on the Senate
Judiciary Committee schedule this month. If passed, the bill would
amend the Hate Crime Statistics Act which already takes note of
offenses based on race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation,
gender, gender identity and disability status to include hate crimes
against the homeless in the data collected by the Attorney General.

If they were included in the annual hate crime inventory taken by the
FBI, such offenses might actually be more numerous than other hate
attacks. Over the last few years, as increasing numbers of Americans
have been forced to live on the streets, by some estimates over one
million, there has been a sickeningly high number of sadistic acts of
violence directed at the homeless that are not the result of robbery,
personal animus or drugs.  According to the National Coalition for the
Homeless (NCH), fatal attacks on homeless people rose 65% between 2005
and 2008, reaching a total of 70 murders over this four-year period.
the number killed has not dipped below 20 a year since 2005. 

According to the NCH and the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism,
despite their relatively small numbers, nearly 2 1/2 times more
homeless people in America have been killed over the past 10 years in
apparent unprovoked bias homicides than the total for all the other
hate-crime homicides -- on the basis of race, religion, national
origin, disability and sexual orientation -- combined. The FBI
documented just 16 hate-crime homicides nationally for the two most
recently available years combined, while the NCH enumerated more than
three times as many "hate homicides" against the homeless during the
same period.

The passage of the Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act,
introduced by U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin, will not mandate financial
support to government responses to hate crimes against the homeless.
The current legislation would merely require that such hate crimes be
reported in addition to other bases for bias motivation. Yet, the
current bill is nevertheless important because it provides vital
information to those who assist the homeless about how we can better
protect them and respond to the brutalization of them. Support for
inclusion of the homeless in hate crime legislation ranges from
conservative Christian Republicans like Maryland State Senator Alex
Mooney to Democrats like California State Senate leader Darrel
Steinberg. The new federal bill rightly acknowledges that homeless
people--no less than racial and religious groups--deserve to be
protected from the cruel and brutal treatment of the bigots among us.