By Cynthia Ribas-Santos
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), chaired the first hearing the United States Senate has ever held on the topic of violence against the homeless. This also happened to be the first time I had ever attended a hearing in the Senate building. Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act, S. 1765, calls for the FBI to document hate crimes, or bias-motivated violence, in order to gather better data to then improve the problem. There is currently no standardized way to report on violent acts against the homeless. The bill doesn’t call for action nor does it require citizens to do anything differently; all it asks is for the FBI to document all cases of hate crimes against the homeless.
Sen. Cardin states on his website, “Homeless people are part of America. Every day, we see veterans, fathers, mothers, children, and families who have been forced by circumstances to live on the streets. They are among our Nation’s most vulnerable, but too frequently they find themselves the target of violent crime simply because they are homeless.”
Personally, this bill seems like a no-brainer to pass. Politics always intrudes on no-brainers. The group of policy experts and law enforcement who testified to congress, whether it was for or against the bill, was an intelligent group of people. One woman testified in honor of her homeless brother who was brutally murdered by a group of young men. He was killed not because he was a thief, a cheater, or a murderer. He was killed because he was homeless.
Another man who testified, a member of The Heritage Foundation, stood firmly in his belief that this bill was unnecessary. He stated, “What about crimes against people with homes? Why don’t we care about that?” In response to him I say, visit the FBI’s website. This includes the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) on: crime in the United States, hate crime statistics (homeless people not included), law enforcement officers killed and assaulted, and additional UCR publications. Most reports are archived from 1995 to 2009. Not only are we provided with national statistics, but the Metropolitan Police Department of DC has its own documentation system.
Instead of classifying people into groups of those with homes and those without, we should treat everyone with the care and respect they deserve. Sen. Cardin says it best, “This behavior should not and cannot be tolerated in our society. America’s homeless deserve the same respect and dignity that we share sitting here today.”