Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Homeless are the canaries in the coal mine

New England papers like the Boston Globe have been following the horrendous story of the slaughter of a Manchester, New Hampshire nurse and the maiming of her daughter by four teenagers for no apparent reason. Of course there is a reason, it just doesn't make sense to most rational people.

On the face of it, attacks on homeless people don't seem to make a lot of sense, either. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, between 1999 and 2008 there were 244 deaths of homeless people and 636 victims of non-lethal violence perpetrated by housed people. Many assaults go uncounted.

A Eugene, Oregon man was "lucky" this week-- he did not become the city's third homeless murder victim when he was set on fire from behind by an unknown assailant; he survived with burns to his hands and face. 35 year old Brian Armstrong of Monroe, Louisiana didn't fare so well-- picked up and incarcerated for being drunk and disorderly, he was found beaten to death in his cell the next morning. His three cellmates are being questioned in what is being treated as a murder. The motive for last Saturday's shooting death of a homeless white woman in Pheonix, Arizona may be clearer-- she was walking with a homeless Black friend when a bald, tattooed white man hollered at the Black man because he was walking with a white woman. Moments later, he shot at them, wounding the man and killing the woman.

Poverty (and addiction) is getting a lot of people in trouble with the law these days, but homeless people are particularly at risk. When you hear about a man with 50 prior convictions arrested yet again for theft, a 15 year sentence might not seem excessive. But then when you hear that the man was homeless and stole a box of cereal and a can of evaporated milk, and that most of his prior convictions were for charges such as trespassing and public intoxication...The 13th Juror has a good story about Mark Anthony Griffin of Bartow, Florida..

And thank you, Officer Michael Hennessey of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, for blowing the whistle on a police department incentive program that he believes unfairly targeted homeless people. The incentive program, which offered days off and gift certificates, included a scavenger hunt for actions such as arresting a homeless person who violated the Open Container law with a drink other than Natural Ice beer. Broward County prosecutors dismissed claims of prejudice last week, but at least the incentive program is now dead.

Photo from Matt from London's photostream at Flickr.

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