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Hate Crimes/Violence Prevention Project

Hate Crimes Against People Experiencing Homelessness

The June 2001 killing of Hector Robles in Paterson, NJ by a mob of high school boys saturated front pages and evening news reports with its horrid brutality and inexplicable motivation. Hidden from most living rooms, however, were a number of other shocking crimes committed nationwide against homeless people this year. A 22-year-old woman was stabbed almost 15 times and thrown into the Charles River in Cambridge, MA. A man was drenched with gasoline and set on fire in New York City. An army veteran in Ventura, CA, was beaten to death while resting in his sleeping bag.

The term "hate crime" generally conjures up images of cross burnings and lynchings, swastikas on Jewish synagogues, and horrific murders of gays and lesbians. In 1968, the U.S. Congress defined a hate crime as a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property that is the object of the crime, because of their race, color or national origin (Title 18 U.S.C Section 245). The first federal law to combat hate crimes, 18 USC Section 245, passed in 1968; it mandated that the government must prove both that the crime occurred because of a victim's membership in a designated group and because the victim was engaged in certain specified federally-protected activities -- such as serving on a jury, voting, or attending public school. [1]

Hate crimes are commonly called bias-motivated crimes, referring to the prejudice or partiality 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. Some are "mission offenders," who believe they are on a mission to cleanse the world of a particular evil. Others are "scapegoat offenders," who project their resentment toward the growing economic power of a particular racial or ethnic group through violent actions. Still others are "thrill seekers"-those who take advantage of a vulnerable and disadvantaged group in order to satisfy their own pleasures. [2] Thrill seekers, primarily in their teens, are the most common perpetrators of violence against the homeless population.

What You Can Do:

On September 29, 2010, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to gather testimony on crimes against America's homeless. The testimonies provide a good background for why legislative action is needed on this issue: Is the Violence Growing?

In November of 2011, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson reintroduced the Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act (HR 3528). This kind of legislation would be the first step towards acknowledging a problem that is reaching epic proportions. You can help today by asking your Representative in Congress to Co-Sponsor HR 3528, or by contacting members of the House Committee on the Judiciary asking them to move the bill through to Congress.

You can also take action in your community by educating your classmates or neighbors about the issue is roundtable discussions in college classrooms or community forums, or invite NCH to present at your event. Through solidarity and education we can bring a final end to hate crime violence. For more information, please contact Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing at 202.462.4822 or mstoops@nationalhomeless.org.

NCH Recommendations:

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

2. 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 who become homeless.

3. Sensitivity training at police academies and departments nationwide for trainees and police officers on how to deal effectively and humanely with people who become homeless in their communities.

4. A General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation into the nature and scope of hate crimes and/or violent acts and crimes that occur against people experiencing homelessness. The study will address the following: causes of hate crimes/violence, circumstances that contribute to or were responsible for the perpetrators' behavior, beliefs held by the perpetrators of these crimes and how their beliefs have changed since conviction, and thoughts and advice to others who are considering hate crimes/violence against the homeless population.

NCH Reports on Hate Crimes/Violence Committed Against People Experiencing Homelessness:

1 Source: Anti-Defamation League, http://www.adl.org/legislative_action/hatecrimes_briefing.html
2 Source: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, www.ojp.usdoj.gov
3 Source: Anti-Defamation League, http://www.adl.org/legislative_action/hatecrimes_briefing.html
4 Source: Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, www.civilrights.org
5 Source: Anti-Defamation League, http://www.adl.org/legislative_action/hatecrimes_briefing.html

National Coalition for the Homeless
2201 P Street NW
Washington, DC 20037-1033

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Page last modified: September 26, 2013

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