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New Hate Crimes Bill Would Protect Homeless

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Hate crimes legislation has long sought to keep personal prejudice from boiling over into public violence, by stiffening the consequences for bias-based crimes. Yet one routinely victimized class of Americans is left entirely unprotected by hate crimes laws― even though violent attacks on this population outnumber all other categories of hate crimes combined. On behalf of homeless Americans, CA Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal is hoping to redress the oversight with Assembly Bill 312, which would allow bias-related violence against homeless people to be designated as a hate crime.

The National Coalition for the Homeless attributes bias against homeless people in part to the dehumanization of homeless people in popular media and increasing criminalization of homeless people's daily activities. A 2010 report by the Coalition made clear how severe the stakes: in 2009, one third of homeless people who are assaulted by people with homes are killed during the attack. How does that stack up against more 'serious' violent crimes, like rape? A homeless person is more than 3000 times more likely to be killed by his attacker than a rape victim, based on statistics gathered by University of New Mexico and Colorado researchers.

AB 312 has passed the Assembly and must be approved by the Senate and Governor to become law. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed an earlier homeless hate crime bill OKed by the Assembly and Senate.