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August 8, 2009 5:23 PM   Subscribe

The National Coalition for the Homeless announces that anti-homeless attacks are up, while Maryland becomes the first state to expand hate crimes legislation to include attacks on the homeless.

Meanwhile, new DHS restrictions in New York close drop-in shelters and up restrictions for faith-based homeless shelters, while New-York based advocacy group Picture the Homeless take over a vacant J.P. Morgan lot to protest rising vacancies in the face of the housing crisis
posted by puckish (36 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Must be Carcetti's work!
posted by nasreddin at 5:28 PM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


A girl I know was passed out drunk in an alley and had someone set her on fire. She ended up with major skin grafts on her legs.
Violence towards the homeless is a serious problem.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:34 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


We cut preventative social services, cast out the mentally ill as untouchables in society, and pass laws attempting to push homeless people out of sight and out of mind. It's no wonder this kind of violence goes on, American society actively promotes the idea that homelessness means one isn't even human anymore.

Still, hate crime legislation is no way to deal with this. That's just making a mockery of the term. What must be done is rebuilding infrastructure, recognizing the causes of homelessness, and overcoming the mindset that leads to this problem.

Of course, that won't happen. Requires tax money, and that's just anathema to everybody. After all, we use our credit cards to run society better than the government could.
posted by Saydur at 5:50 PM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


> A girl I know was passed out drunk in an alley and had someone set her on fire

That's horrible.
posted by device55 at 5:58 PM on August 8, 2009


Maryland becomes the first state to expand hate crimes legislation to include attacks on the homeless.

Arguing against the expanded legislation was a Mr. Alex DeLarge, who stated "there was nothing I hated more than to see a filthy old drunkie, howling away at the filthy songs of his fathers and going blurp blurp in between as if it were a filthy old orchestra in his stinking rotten guts. I could never stand to see anyone like that, especially when they were old like this one was." Observers described the legislative session as "real horrorshow".
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:15 PM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


A girl I know was passed out drunk in an alley and had someone set her on fire. She ended up with major skin grafts on her legs.
Violence towards the homeless is a serious problem.


Was she homeless?

As you tell it your story could lead to the conclusion that:

Violence towards the drunk is a serious problem.
Violence towards girls is a serious problem.
Violence towards the unconcious is a serious problem.

Why do the homeless deserve particular protection in this context?
posted by biffa at 6:18 PM on August 8, 2009


So wait, if I get attacked for my wallet in Maryland, my attacker will get an additional charge just because I'm technically homeless?
posted by orthogonality at 6:24 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


"A girl I know was passed out drunk in an alley ... "

I am very happy to not be able to say this.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 6:30 PM on August 8, 2009


So wait, if I get attacked for my wallet in Maryland, my attacker will get an additional charge just because I'm technically homeless?

That would seem to be the gist, yes. If you RTFA you'd see that other states are also considering similar legislation.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:51 PM on August 8, 2009


For three decades at all levels of society we've been trying to make "kicking a man when he's down" as uniquely American as guns and apple pie. Now we're going to undo this with hate crime legislation?
posted by crapmatic at 6:54 PM on August 8, 2009




Mission accomplished!
posted by Balisong at 7:23 PM on August 8, 2009


Criminal law distinguishes between attacks that occur in your home, and those that don't. It's not ridiculous to think that this could be extended in a way to apply heightened punishment to those who do not have a home to retreat to.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:57 PM on August 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


If someone has serious untreated mental illness and co-occurring substance-abuse problems, labeling their problem as "homelessness" may be technically accurate, but isn't particularly helpful.
posted by Wufpak at 8:34 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


It seems like the only reason for adding the homeless to the hate crime list is because the basic laws and penalties against theft, assault, battery, and murder were not enough to deter the criminals from acting against this group. I agree that it is not the best solution to the problem, but this is all part and parcel of the mindset of America since Reagan swept in: if you can't provide for yourself, you're a worthless person who either needs to improve his situation through hard work or you should just die and get out of everyone else's way. It's why we have 50 million without health insurance, it's why the minimum wage was only recently raised for the first time in decades, and it's why we have so many homeless to begin with.

And it seems that in NYC, "Department for Homeless Services" has become one of those ironic Orwellian phrases. (I wish we had a better set of acronyms that didn't have "DHS" standing for so many different possible agencies. My first thought was, why is the Department of Homeland Security taking action against homeless shelters?)
posted by hippybear at 8:43 PM on August 8, 2009


Just like the recent FPP on closures of domestic violence shelters in California, the shelter closures in NYC are simply a part of the larger picture in social services where programs across the board in every field that serve every population are suffering devastating cuts due to federal, state and municipal budget gaps. The cuts are not limited to homeless services in NYC, nor in other cities. I'm sure you could do an FPP a day for the rest of the year about different aspects of the social service landscape in cities across the US that are totally, utterly fucked right now.
posted by The Straightener at 8:54 PM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Being against all hate crime legislation puts me in agreement with a lot of people I would rather not ever agree with. I understand why people support it. I support gay rights in particular, and I can understand watching the Matthew Shepard story and thinking we "have to do something." But an appeal based on anecdote, however horrific, is the wrong way to decide issues of law. It's wrong when the right does it with 9/11 and Saddam Hussein's alleged baby-meat-grinder and "poor little kid who died from smoking pot," and it's wrong when the left does it too.

Tying judges' hands is never the answer. We've done that with mandatory minimums, and forcing judges, against every fiber of their being, to sentence people to 20 and 30 years for simple, non-violent drug possession. It's a disaster for our judicial system.

The most important thing to remember is this: Judges already have the discretion to give the sentence they deem appropriate, BASED ON THE FACTS OF THE CASE. That is, in fact, their job. If the motivation behind a crime is to intimidate or drive out an entire group, as is sometimes the case with gay bashing, then yes, the sentence should probably be stronger than if it was just a simple assault- because more people than just the victim have been harmed.

But every case is different. On some level I think hate is actually more forgivable than say, a crime in cold blood for money, because as Martin Luther King said, people who have been taught to hate are not entirely responsible for their hatred.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:12 PM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wow drjimmy11. That's a lot of invective without any specificity. Hate crimes tie judges hands? They encourage people to not look at the facts of the case? Judges currently have unlimited discretion? Hate crimes legislation are based solely on appeals to emotion? None of these things are true. They are extremely ranty though and sound awful familiar to a number of misinformed right-wing talking points.

Of course every case is different. Again, it just doesn't sound like you know what you're talking about. Perhaps you should read up a bit on hate crimes legislation before you attack the idea. There are plenty of non-crazy reasons to support or oppose them, but none of the things you listed fall within that range. Indeed, one may as well support hate crimes legislation because without these laws child molesters will be able to lynch Black people while gay bashing and blowing up animal shelters with impunity. Won't someone think of the children?

It's about as sound a reason as the ones you gave.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:20 PM on August 8, 2009


Hmmm...I'm not American, but you'd think that increased levels of violence against the homeless was a reflection of the increased fear of homelessness and higher levels of housing and income insecurity for those committing violent acts. After all, what period of history hasn't featured a symbolic rejection of demonised groups through violence?

If we accept that premise (and Americans, I'm curious if you do), I'd have to say that it is indeed hate crime.
posted by jaduncan at 9:22 PM on August 8, 2009


Why do the homeless deserve particular protection in this context?

Well, the obvious answer is that whoever set her on fire might have thought she was homeless, or that the homeless are more likely to be sleeping outside, and thus would be more likely to be victims of this arsonist.
posted by delmoi at 9:56 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's like declaring a thought crime, to say you can't band up with your fellow hooligans for a drunken Saturday night of beating down the underclasses. To say that there's something especially wrong with find a feeble, defenseless old bum and kicking him in the ribs until you hear that delightful splintering sound. To say that you can't cheer when you hear his pathetic cries.
posted by nervousfritz at 10:17 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, to be fair, nervousfritz, it was kind of illegal to beat homeless people in the first place, what with them being people and all.
posted by adipocere at 10:55 PM on August 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why do the homeless deserve particular protection in this context?
As delmoi already pointed out, as far as the assailant was concerned, she was homeless- girl passed out drunk in an alley in NYC. Add to that the fact that she's a pretty crusty punk and she was homeless at the time, and yes, I'd call this a pretty solid case of an attack against the homeless.

It's a real sign of the times that we're seeing all this violence against the homeless. My theory is that people are feeling their own places in society are endangered and are taking it out on what they're afraid they'll become.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:27 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's a real sign of the times that we're seeing all this violence against the homeless. My theory is that people are feeling their own places in society are endangered and are taking it out on what they're afraid they'll become.

It's pretty pathetic that people want to describe these incidents as "acting out against what they fear will happen to them". It sounds like an excuse for blatant anti-social criminal behavior. What has happened to us that, when faced with the possibility of bad events, we assume others will rage against others already in the circumstance rather than respond with empathy and kindness in the hope that easing the burden will help build a cushion for any and all falling into such a state?

Horrible actions are taking place. I hope we aren't excusing them with armchair psychology to the detriment of society.
posted by hippybear at 11:31 AM on August 9, 2009


There's a glaringly obvious difference between excusing this violence and offering a theory to explain it, which is what I was doing.
You and I might not beat up homeless people when we encounter them, but there's no end of absolute jerks who would, and I still think it's a sign of the times that there's more people who would be beating up homeless people.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:48 AM on August 9, 2009


I don't understand why this keeps happening on Metafilter, but I'm really tired of any attempt to understand or contextualize bad things is instantly claimed to be "excusing them" (sometimes "with armchair psychology", no less.) There seems to be this utterly wrongheaded idea out there that to consider something legitimizes it.

I recall a thread last year where people were accused of excusing and forgiving Hitler for not accepting the claim that the Nazis weren't human.

This is getting absurd. Can we please think before we accuse each of excusing beating homeless people and setting them on fire, or excusing the goddamn Holocaust?
posted by spaltavian at 12:15 PM on August 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Sorry, that really wasn't my point, and I didn't mean to start a flameout in this thread. I didn't express myself clearly. I will go stand in the corner until I can do so.
posted by hippybear at 12:21 PM on August 9, 2009



The homeless should be getting a break for the rest of the summer. A lot of the cretins are now busy attacking Obama's attempt to provide health care for them. (Both the homeless and the cretins)
posted by notreally at 12:52 PM on August 9, 2009


Barbara Ehrenreich: Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?
posted by homunculus at 1:07 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why is spaltavian making excuses for Hitler? Is spaltavian a NazI?
posted by orthogonality at 3:22 PM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes.
posted by spaltavian at 4:15 PM on August 9, 2009


What has happened to us that, when faced with the possibility of bad events, we assume others will rage against others already in the circumstance rather than respond with empathy and kindness

I don't assume that people will respond with empathy and kindness because studies of people have not supported that sort of behavior being something extremely common. In some situations it is even the less likely outcome.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bystander_effect

I would even go as far as to claim it is dangerous for me to assume I am the sort of person that will naturally empathize because it leaves me less prepared to deal with what is statistically more likely to be my behavior toward someone in need of help.
posted by prak at 5:40 PM on August 9, 2009


prak: I continue to find myself mystified and even harmed because I assume others are more kind-hearted than they truly are. But is that a symptom of our culture falling apart, or a failure of social education, or something else? Can it be counter-acted, instilling a greater sense of empathy and kindness within the general culture over time? (I am certain that would not have a noticeable effect in my lifetime, whatever "that" might be.) I would hope that I do not surrender myself to what may be the statistically more likely response simply because someone else has determined it to be so. Part of the privilege of being human is that we can make choices which run counter to our lizard brain programming. Surely recognizing the potential for that statistical likelihood would aid any individual to make a choice which is more humane.

In any case, the crimes against the homeless are despicable. Dehumanizing classist attitudes, likely coupled with childish destructive impulses. Only instead of ants and a magnifying glass on a sunny day, it's actual human beings who happen to be in more unfortunate circumstances than most.
posted by hippybear at 5:49 PM on August 9, 2009


hippybear, I strongly suspect it is partially cultural, partially a failure of social education, and partially a failure of those people's parents and role models to instill the idea that it's generally not a good idea to set people on fire.

I'm not even sure what instincts in the human brain even push some people over the edge of eviscerating another human being because they simply want to, unless they're a sociopath (according to the book 'The Sociopath Next Door', as many as 4% of the population has this problem - that's 4 times the amount of schizophrenics) or just simply a total wackjob.
posted by kldickson at 7:54 PM on August 9, 2009


Being against all hate crime legislation puts me in agreement with a lot of people I would rather not ever agree with. I understand why people support it. I support gay rights in particular, and I can understand watching the Matthew Shepard story and thinking we "have to do something." But an appeal based on anecdote, however horrific, is the wrong way to decide issues of law

I agree with this, but I think there's a better and more subtle arguments for some kind of measured sensitivity to these issues in the legal system.

I'm not particularly fond of the term "hate crime." The focus on the status/class of the victim is what tends to politicize the issue and bring up the usual (and often worthwhile) concerns about thought crime and accidental escalation of a coincidental crime.

But an "ideologically motivated" crime really does present some problems that a crime motivated by passing emotion or opportunism. If someone truly believes, for example, that SUVs are such a blight on the planet that they should be severely vandalized or destroyed at every opportunity, you really do have something different than somebody who vandalized the same kind of vehicle because they were mad at their ex, or because they were with some friends and just thought it'd be a lark. The latter cases might be easily persuaded that it's just not worth it after being hit with even lighter penalties. The former case might be a committed idealist for whom even doing real time might simply produce a martyr complex.

There is, of course, the argument that this kind of problem might be better served with more wisdom at the sentencing and penal stages than by making new laws, and that has a lot of sense to it, but I don't think that undermines the strength of the general idea of having law that recognizes the difference between these kinds of cases. The strength of that idea, though, depends quite a bit on a conceptualization that turns largely on the intent of the perpetrator vs. the status/class of the victim.

Back to the topic of this thread, though, this conceptualization doesn't bring attacks on the homeless under its auspices particularly well. It seems unlikely that there's any explicit ideology motivating this kind of crime (I'm even that this is Reagan-era anti-state privatism bubbling up). I think it's as simple as an all too human instinct to exercise power over those that are weaker and/or of lower "status" than you are. I definitely feel that the power gap aggravates the level of the offense, but making this somehow "more criminal" apparently turns very much on the status of the victim.

Maybe the answer is that this kind of blatant attack on someone helpless is already covered by aggravated assault laws. Or you can argue that a power gap is a different kind of problem than an ideologically motivated crime and deserves a different treatment in law, fundamentally making it different than a hate crime.
posted by weston at 11:36 AM on August 10, 2009


I assume others are more kind-hearted than they truly are. But is that a symptom of our culture falling apart, or a failure of social education, or

... the basic condition of humanity.
posted by spaltavian at 2:24 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


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