Homeless say violence is part of street life; video is not
Published: Saturday, January 14, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 13, 2006 at 11:51 p.m.
The top 10 ‘‘mean cities’’ toward the homeless, as ranked by the National Coalition for the Homeless:
"This hasn't just started happening. It's been happening," said Stanley Thompson, 49, as he stood outside the Cooperative Feeding Program with other homeless people. "People think that just because you're homeless, you're not human. You're imperfect."
Each homeless person interviewed Friday had a story of violent attacks, often involving roving bands of youths. They told stories of bricks and rocks being hurled at them, beatings, robberies of their meager possessions. They suffered broken bones, lost teeth, blackened eyes and bruises. One man said he was shot with frozen paintballs by a group of young thugs out for kicks.
"I think it's horrible. We're homeless people. We don't bother anybody," said Shannon Owen, 32, who was hanging around with friends at the city bus station.
"It's just young kids being stupid," said her friend, 20-year-old Dean Schrameck Jr. "They think homeless people are trash. But they're people, too."
Police were searching Friday for a group of two to four young men believed involved in the attacks early Thursday against three homeless men with baseball bats or sticks. One of the three victims, 45-year-old Norris Gaynor, died from his severe head injuries.
Another of the attacks, which police believe were committed by the same group, was captured by a video security camera outside a building housing Florida Atlantic University and Broward Community College facilities. The video and still pictures taken from it was broadcast and published nationally, bringing into sharp focus this chronic problem.
"This will shine a very bright light on an issue that has been camouflaged and buried for a long time," said Marti Forman, chief executive officer of the Cooperative Feeding Program.
Attacks on the homeless are a frequent occurrence in Broward County, where an estimated 10,000 people are homeless on a given day, said Laura Hansen, executive director of the Broward Coalition for the Homeless Inc.
"I wish I could say it was shocking and appalling, but it's not. We see it all the time," Hansen said. "By some miracle, somebody caught this on camera. And what are we going to do about it?"
The Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless, which has published an annual report on attacks that appear directed at homeless people simply because they are homeless, found that the number has risen from 60 in 1999 to 105, including 25 deaths, in 2004. The majority of attackers were young men between the ages of 16 and 25.
In Florida, four teenagers were convicted in December of the fatal beating death of a homeless man in Daytona Beach. Four others were convicted in the 1996 killing of a Pompano Beach man who was punched and kicked. A 13-year-old boy was convicted in the 1993 shooting in Miami of a homeless man in a dispute over pizza.
Last year, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., joined U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., in requesting that the Government Accountability Office conduct its own review of the crimes to determine whether such attacks should be categorized as hate crimes. The GAO has yet to issue a report on the subject.
Convictions under a hate crime law usually carry harsher sentences than other types of crime. Racial, ethnic and religious groups are among those currently covered by various hate crime laws around the country.
Back on the streets of Fort Lauderdale, the local Salvation Army announced it would provide emergency shelter for the homeless until the perpetrators of the deadly attack are captured. Homeless people who don't plan to go to a shelter said they are already careful about where they sleep at night.
"You can't really go to sleep. You've got to sleep and be halfway awake at night," said Van Jackson, 53. "It's dangerous."
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