Has prejudice led to killing of homeless people where you live?

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 11 Jun 1999 21:06:58 -0700 (PDT)

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Prejudice is the way that the powerful mark the powerless as targets
deserving of exclusion, privation, chains and violence.

Has prejudice induced killing of homeless people in your community or nation?
If so, please cite examples.

Who were the perpetrators?
Who urged them to kill?

Who thought they might gain by the killing?
Did they actually gain in the long run?

How do you know?

For a related opinion on the deadly consequences of stereotypes, see the
article below:

FWD  Christian Science Monitor - June 8, 1999



     Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Many mid-city Los Angeles residents affectionately
called her Mom and described her as sweet and
harmless. Margaret Laverne Mitchell was a homeless,
middle-aged, African-American woman who had
become a familiar figure on the streets.

These same residents shook their heads in
uncomprehending outrage when Mom was gunned
down May 21 by Los Angeles police officers. Police
claim they stopped to question her about a stolen
shopping cart and they shot her when she threatened
them with a screw driver.

Their story is hotly disputed by at least three
witnesses who say that the officers shot Mom as she
walked away.

The question in my mind is whether Ms. Mitchell was
the victim of stereotyping - not just as a black, but as a
black woman.

Much has been made in recent years about how black
men are stereotyped.

But little attention has focused on black women.

No matter what conclusion police and investigators
ultimately come to regarding the slaying of Mom, as
long as she and other black women are typed as
deviant, violent, and crime-prone they will continue to
be seen and treated by many in law enforcement as the
new menace to society.

Even if Mitchell did what police allege, how much of
a threat could a middle-aged, diminutive woman with
a screw driver be? Couldn't the officers have fired a
warning shot, radioed for help, or used nonlethal
force such as a stun gun, tasers, rubber bullets,
tear-gas pellets, pepper spray, or bean bags to subdue

Mom's slaying might just seem like deadly business
as usual for the Los Angeles Police Department. The
US Civil Rights Commission concluded in a recent
report that the problems of abuse that became a
national disgrace with the Rodney King beating still
plague the LAPD as well as the L.A. County Sheriff's

But her killing brought to five the total of
African-American women shot under questionable
circumstances by police in Southern California in the
past three years. Mom's shooting follows the
December slaying of Tyisha Miller by Riverside,
Calif., police officers. This unprecedented pattern is a
harsh reminder that for many in law enforcement,
black women, like black men, are increasingly
regarded as menaces to society.

That has deadly consequences for black women in
how society views and treats them.

While much of the media instilled the stereotypes and
fear of black men as lazy, violent, crime-prone, and
sexual predators, black women were typed similarly.

The Miller case in Riverside was a classic example of
this. An article in the city's major daily newspaper,
the Riverside Press-Enterprise, relied exclusively on
the character description by the Riverside Police
Department, calling her "aggressive," "assaultive," "a
possible gang member," and "mistaken for a man."
Police shot Miller 12 times on Dec. 28. She was
lying, unresponsive in her locked car, with a gun in
her lap. Police say that when they broke the window
to reach for the gun, Miller sat up and appeared to
reach for the gun. Four officers, three white and one
Hispanic, were involved in the shooting.

The latest slaying of a black woman raises a bigger

Racial and gender stereotypes about black women rest
solidly on deeply ingrained myths and stereotypes.
They have had these serious consequences:

       Image assault. The image of the sexually
       immoral and physically aggressive black
       woman puts black women at risk in law and
       public policy. In many cases police,
       prosecutors, and the courts ignore or lightly
       punish rape, sexual abuse, and assaults
       against black women.

       Devalued lives. Black women are far more
       likely to be raped, assaulted, and murdered
       than non-black women. They are far less
       likely to have the media treat crimes against
       them as seriously as crimes against white

       The rape and murder of seven-year-old
       Sherrice Iverson, an African-American girl, at
       a Nevada casino in 1997 was another classic
       example. The numerous features and cover
       stories in the major press on her white teen
       killer humanized and evoked sympathy for
       him. Yet no press features were done on
       Iverson to personalize her story.

       Prison. For the first time in American history,
       black women in some states are being
       imprisoned at nearly the same rate as white
       men. They are seven times likelier to be jailed
       than white women.

       Homelessness: The killing of Mom
       spotlighted not only the issue of police abuse,
       but also the crisis of homelessness among
       black women.

African-Americans make up more than half of the
homeless in America, and black women make up a
significant number of that total.

While the homeless receive much individual
sympathy, it has not resulted in an increase in drug,
alcohol, education and job training programs to help
women such as Mom get off the streets.

No matter what conclusion police and investigators
ultimately come to regarding the slaying of Mom, as
long as she and other black women are typed as
deviant, violent, and crime-prone they will continue to
be seen and treated by many in law enforcement as the
new menace to society.

  Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a syndicated columnist,
wrote 'The Crisis in Black and Black' (Middle
Passage Press, 1998). He lives in Los Angeles.

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