Killings of homeless people have risen to their highest level in a decade, with 43 killed last year and many more injured in often brutal attacks that are raising concerns among law enforcement officials, rights advocates, and politicians, says the New York Times. The rise in killings, from 27 in 2008, comes as state and local governments are wrestling with the problem of what to do with the growing number of people forced onto the streets by economic woes. Some states and cities are moving to prosecute violence against the homeless as a hate crime; others are imposing tougher measures to prevent people from living on the streets in the first place.
Cases compiled by the National Coalition for the Homeless showed homeless people doused with gasoline and set on fire, attacked with bottles, metal pipes and baseball bats, and sprayed with pepper spray, often for the sport of it. Because the FBI does not track crimes against the homeless, data from the coalition is considered the most definitive. U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) plans to lead a hearing next month on the rising homeless problem, including violence against those living on the streets. Criminologists and others who worked on the study said they believed the rise in fatal attacks has been fueled by a combination of factors, including tough economic times, the popularity of amateur Web videos on “bum fights” and on-line games that glorify and trivialize attacks, an increase in gang initiations involving the homeless, and crackdowns on homeless encampments that have bred hostility.