[Hpn] Atttacks on homeless rising

William Charles Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Thu, 24 Aug 2006 04:59:54 -0400


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Wednesday, August 23, 2006



Activists: Atttacks on homeless rising



By BETH RUCKER
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tara Cole, who had been living on the streets of 
Nashville for more than three years, spent her last night alive sleeping on 
a boat ramp along the Cumberland River.

She was killed in the early hours of Aug. 11, when two unknown males pushed 
her into the river, according to witnesses. Other homeless people couldn't 
save her.

"She was one person, but it terrorized the whole homeless population," said 
Howard Allen, a homeless man who has helped organize a nightly vigil for 
Cole.

Authorities said the fatal attack was unprovoked, and homeless advocates say 
such violence is on the rise across the nation. Often the attackers are 
teenagers or young adults who are more affluent than their victims, experts 
say.

A 2005 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless showed 86 violent 
attacks on homeless people in 2005 compared with 60 in 1999. Those numbers 
are likely low because they only reflect attacks that have been documented 
in public records, said Michael Stoops, executive director of the 
Washington-based coalition.

Stoops said that in the 1980s attacks appeared to plague only big cities on 
the East Coast and West Coast. Now, the coalition has documented incidents 
in 165 cities nationwide, 42 states and Puerto Rico.



"I think they do it for thrills. I think they think they can get away with 
it, that the homeless won't fight back, that no one will care, that the 
police won't pay any attention to them," Stoops said.

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a teenager beat a homeless man to death and pelted 
his body with paintballs in January. Another homeless man was beat to death 
in March in Orlando, Fla., and five juveniles have been arrested in the 
case.

In February, the National Coalition for the Homeless asked the U.S. 
Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of violence against the 
homeless, though the GAO has not responded, Stoops said.

The increase in violence may be loosely linked to the increasing popularity 
of so-called "Bumfights" videos and imitation videos which show homeless 
people fighting one another and performing dangerous stunts, he said.

Four producers of the "Bumfights" videos pleaded guilty in June 2003 to 
charges of conspiracy to stage an illegal fight for their videos.

And a 20-year-old man in Los Angeles has been convicted for beating two 
homeless men with a baseball bat in August 2005 after watching a "Bumfights" 
video.

Internet site Bumfights.com, which sells the videos, says their purpose is 
to call attention to poverty and violence. "Please do not miss the point of 
these videos! Educate yourself. Help those who are less fortunate. Spread 
love not hate," the Web site says.

Not all heed the warning. The Web site includes one viewer commenting, "Let 
the idiots kill each other for my amusement."

No one responded to an Associated Press e-mail to Bumfights.com seeking 
comment for this story.

In cases where the perpetrator of attacks on homeless people is known, 76 
percent are people 25 or younger, Stoops said. About 80 percent of attackers 
are white, he said.

"This might give an immature or drunk or high young adult encouragement to 
attack homeless people," Stoops said. "Were they to do this to any other 
minority group, there would be a national outcry."

In Nashville, Police Commander Andy Garrett said there was no reason for 
panic, pointing out that violence among homeless people in his city is more 
common than random violence against them.

"Have we had a person hit a homeless person before? Yes. Does there appear 
to be a pattern? No, thankfully," he said.

Tara Cole's mother, Pearl, said she believes her daughter - a bright, free 
spirit who loved music and wanted to record in Nashville and who was so fond 
of animals she wouldn't kill spiders - didn't die in vain.

"Everyone who met her knew that something was different about her," she 
said. "She did have an impact on those around her. I know something good 
will come of this."

---

On the Net:

National Coalition for the Homeless: http://www.nationalhomeless.org

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