Maryland has became the first state to cover homeless people in its hate crimes law, reports USA Today. Under the law, an attack can result in a harsher penalty if evidence shows the attacker acted because the victim was homeless. “This is a very symbolic and practical step in addressing violence against homeless people,” says Michael Stoops of the National Coalition for the Homeless. Maine allows judges to impose harsher sentences for crimes against the homeless. Last year, Alaska added them to its vulnerable-victims law, which allows for increased penalties.
Stoops’ group, using police interviews and news reports, documented a rising trend, from 60 attacks in 1999 to 160 in 2007; 217 of the 774 total incidents were fatal. David Friedman of the Anti-Defamation League, which that fights prejudice against Jews, says the homeless need help but don’t belong as a protected class because hate crime laws are based on “immutable” characteristics such as race or ethnicity, not temporary status such as homelessness.