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Murdering a Homeless Person Should Be a Hate Crime, City Council Says

[dropcap size=big]V[/dropcap]iolence against a homeless person should be treated as a hate crime, according to the city of Los Angeles. The City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday supporting legislation adding homelessness to the list of statuses protected by California’s hate crime laws.

The resolution comes after several brutal attacks against those experiencing homelessness this year. The move also comes as the city's struggles to alleviate the growing homelessness situation fueled by a lack of affordable housing, rampant gentrification, and redevelopment. Incoming L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva recently told L.A. Taco that the city leadership on the issue "has been lacking."

Villanueva said the issue is going to require a "compassionate approach" and an end to NIMBY-ism, which would include repurposing large, unused structures like the former L.A. County General Hospital building as temporary housing.

"We should have a comprehensive regional approach to homelessness," Villanueva said. "And recognize it is a national and regional problem, not only a local one."

California leads the nation in attacks against those experiencing homelessness. The Office of the Chief Legislative Analyst noted a 2015 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless finding that 25 percent of attacks nationwide happened in California. On average, these victims were mostly middle-aged men, and the perpetrators were overwhelmingly men under 30.

RELATED: L.A. County Serves Eviction to American Legion Where Homeless Housing Project is Slated

A wanted poster for the man known as the "Baseball Bat Killer."

[dropcap size=big]C[/dropcap]ouncilwoman Monica Rodriguez introduced Tuesday's hate-crime resolution as a response to several deadly attacks that happened against unhoused people this year.

In October, a homeless man and woman were attacked with battery acid as they slept in Mission Hills Park, with the suspect still at large. In September, a man by the name of Ramon Escobar was arrested as a prime suspect in a series of heinous attacks that occurred in Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Escobar, dubbed the “Baseball Bat Killer,” allegedly beat four men to death and seriously injured four others, most of whom were homeless and sleeping.

RELATED: An L.A. Portrait: A Single Rent Increase Put This Woman on the Streets in Los Feliz

Homeless Encampments in front of a DWP building on Wall and Fifth. Photo by by Philip Iglauer.
Homeless Encampments in front of a DWP bldg on wall and fifth. Photo by by Philip Iglauer.

The NCH report also shows that nationwide, the number of attacks against those experiencing homelessness has increased, but crimes against the homeless are reported at lower rates in comparison to other crimes. Since 1999, the number of deadly attacks against people experiencing homelessness exceeded the total number deaths in hate crimes targeting specific races, religions, and sexual orientations combined.

The report cited the criminalization of activities related to homelessness such as pan-handling and camping as a factor influencing the bias people may have against those experiencing homelessness.

States including Maryland, Florida and Alaska have broadened their definitions of a hate crime to include protections based on housing status, the Chief Legislative Analyst’s report said. Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill 2010 that would have expanded California’s hate crime law to include homeless people.

This resolution does not mean that homeless people are automatically protected, but rather, that L.A. City Council would support any hypothetical legislation.

RELATED: Downtown Development Is Pushing Homeless Encampments and RVs Into Residential Streets of South Central

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