Violent attacks against homeless people in the U.S. increased significantly in 2007, with the number of lethal attacks jumping by 40 percent from the previous year's figure, according to a recently issued report by two groups.
Fatal assaults jumped from 20 in 2006 to 28 in 2007, while the total number increased from 142 to 160 -- a rise of 13 percent -- according to the study "Hate, Violence, and Death on Main Street USA."
Local laws that criminalize homelessness and a current fad for "bum bashing" videos "send a message to society that homeless people are not human [and] do not deserve respect," said Tulin Ozdeger, the civil rights director for the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. The law center prepared the report along with the National Coalition for the Homeless.
Local laws that restrict public sleeping, sitting, storing property, or asking for money create an "environment of hostility" against homeless people and send the message that "attacks against them will not be taken seriously," she said.
Another factor in the continued prevalence of violence against homeless people is "bum bashing" videos, according to the study. Over 6.8 million copies of such videos have been sold, and such videos are popular on YouTube, Ozdeger said.
After Florida, the states with the largest numbers of incidents were California (22), Nevada (14) and Ohio (13).
Ozdeger cautioned that the figures may well be low. The report draws its data primarily from media reports, since victims often don't report the attacks to law-enforcement authorities, she said.
David Pirtle, who said he was the victim of several violations when he was homeless, confirmed that point. Pirtle, who now lives in Washington, D.C., said in a July 14 interview that he did not report the attacks to the police. The worst assault was in New York City in 2004, he said. A "couple of guys" beat him with an aluminum bat or wide pipe. His assailants were "nicely dressed," and appeared to be college-age, he said.
Of the people accused and convicted of violence against the homeless in 2007, 86 percent were 25 and under, the report said.
Pirtle said he had "never been attacked by anyone other than young kids who are intoxicated and bored."
The study asserts that offenses against the homeless should be tallied as hate crimes. There were 187 fatal attacks on homeless individuals from 1999 through 2006, according to the report. For that same period, FBI statistics show 85 homicides classified as hate crimes, the report said.