The recent Aurora, Colorado massacre, and the senseless deaths and mayhem it caused, has placed a sobering cloud over our country.
In the wake of this devastating tragedy, many may have missed the news of another human calamity that occurred in the greater Los Angeles area. A man from Santa Barbara, California, hunted down people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles, stabbed them with a hunting knife, and placed a typed death warrant on their bodies.
Fortunately, in this case, no one died.
But, for a couple of weeks, the streets and shelters of Southern California were filled with fear. It was like a horror movie, with an unseen murderer lurking in the alleys of a fearful city, ready to pounce on his prey.
The typed “death warrants” paint a picture of a deranged vigilante who thinks a person experiencing homelessness is more criminal than victim. Sadly, that belief is not necessarily the exception. Society’s perspective on homelessness today often leans the same way.
Just try to build a shelter for people who are homeless. Suddenly those compassionate neighbors, who thought a man stabbing people experiencing homelessness was wrong, will speak into a City Council microphone and describe homeless individuals as sexual predators, violent criminals, and destroyers of the community.
If we honestly thought people struggling with homelessness were victims, wouldn’t we be desperate to house them at any cost?
For those of us who have been on the front lines of ending homelessness for the last couple of decades, criminal acts against people who are homeless are, sadly, not a shock.
I am reminded of John McGraham, a man who was homeless on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. He was murdered in 2008 by another “vigilante” using gasoline and a match.
In 1999, two Los Angeles Police officers shot a middle-aged homeless woman who was pushing her shopping cart along a street very close to where McGraham was murdered. If there had been a death warrant for her, the alleged crimes would have been homelessness, mental instability, and wielding a screw driver.
More recently, an illegal death warrant was placed on Kelly Thomas, a man who was homeless and struggling with mental illness. Two Fullerton, California, police officers beat him to death.
And let’s not forget the ex-marine who became a serial killer, murdering people experiencing homelessness on the streets of Orange County. He, too, wielded a knife as his weapon of choice. Until he was caught, Southern California’s homeless community lived in fear.
These crimes of hate are not just a sick fad in California. They are occurring throughout the country. Homeless beatings are becoming the norm.
In most cases, the perpetrators of these crimes are prosecuted. But in many states, like California, there are no laws that raise the penalty for such hate crimes. In other words, the laws addressing crimes against people who are homeless are reactive. There are no increased penalties to actually prevent and discourage such crimes.
Until our society acknowledges that being homeless in America is unsafe, and responds by housing those living on our streets, we will not be able to end homelessness in this country.
Photo by hugovk.