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Deadly Violence Among and Against the Homeless

Homeless Under an OverpassIf a person were inclined to really concentrate on the negative, it would be possible to spotlight quite a number of incidents where people experiencing homelessness are randomly slain by bands of townsfolk for apparent sport, or by a citizen with a twisted lone-avenger fantasy. Even worse are the reports of homeless people assaulted or killed by other homeless people. Add to that the incidents that are never reported. Plus, when the topic is police violence against the homeless, there are unfortunately many examples.

Last month in Northern California, guilty pleas were entered by two out of three teenagers accused of the 2009 beating death of a homeless man. They also agreed to testify against the third member of a murderous expedition, the purpose of which was to “kick a bum’s ass.” This they effectively did, using metal bars and a table leg as weapons to kill Timothy Lee Alcorn. Just a couple of weeks ago, a Northern California resident was found guilty of murdering Richard Seeger in order to steal the car in which Seeger had been living.

Fort Walton Beach, Florida, is likely a pleasant enough place, except for when the occasional citizen is set on fire, like Johnnie Roberts was. This happened about a week ago, under a bridge (of course), where the victim was found by a homeless veteran. Meagan O’Halloran reports,

Authorities say they found Johnnie Spencer Roberts tied to a pole by his shoelaces. He was unconscious and intoxicated, but, miraculously, he survived… Now other homeless people say they’re afraid they’ll be targeted next.

Speaking of homeless veterans, that is the category to which Thomas Higginbotham had belonged, before he was killed by police gunfire in Oregon. Maxine Bernstein reported on this January tragedy that took place in an abandoned car wash, where the victim and at least one other homeless man were indoor camping. The victim was 67, alcoholic, armed, and had been persistently threatening a security guard. The scenario, according to the witnesses, sounds like a determined effort to commit suicide-by-cop. If that was what Higginbotham intended, his plan was successful in achieving not only his death, but a stain on the careers of two long-time police officers.

St. Petersburg Times staff reporter Rita Farlow relates how in Florida, a resident of a homeless encampment was convicted of manslaughter last month, another suspect having already pleaded guilty last year. The two beat a fellow homeless man to death back in 2007. Apparently the victim, Michael J. Picciola, had attacked one of them first, and caused other problems, and the two wanted to convince him to leave the small colony. Instead, the troublemaker ended up dead.

Last year was also when three teenagers beat Joseph Ruba to death in Lakeland, Florida. Just last month, a homeless man was charged with the burning death of a 26-year-old homeless woman in Largo, Florida. What is going on down there in the lovely state that we are accustomed to thinking of as a retirement haven and amusement park heaven?

David Greisman reported on the deadly autumn season in Laurel, Maryland, where Pamela Myers, who had been living in the woods, died after being set on fire by her “boyfriend.” Then, within weeks, in an unrelated homicide, Flavio Garcia was killed by another homeless man near a local racetrack. Maryland also saw the death of a homeless man named Adeolu Adedgoke Otemolu, shot by a teenager.

The fall of 2010 was also a bad season in Houston, Texas, where several homeless women were murdered and rumors of a serial killer abounded. Then, in December, an elderly homeless man was killed by a fast-food restaurant employee in Detroit, Michigan. December was also an ill-omened month in Connecticut, where a homeless man was beaten to death by his tent-mate, who then asked a third person to help him bury the body.

Violence occurs among the homeless, as people lacking in social skills attempt to self-police their settlements and camps by what amounts to vigilante action. It happens between people experiencing homelessness, who are driven by deprivation and unimaginable stresses to turn against those who were formerly friends or even lovers.

It happens through malicious hate crimes committed by housed people, who seem to think they are doing some kind of societal cleanup, and who refuse to understand that they are not part of any solution at all, but rather part of an increasingly horrifying problem. Long ago, I knew an Air Force captain, a pilot who held the record for flying a certain kind of Southeast Asia mission and living to tell the tale. Home on leave, in a backward part of the American South, he took his Harley out on the remote country roads. Some bigot was cruising around in a pickup truck, with a head full of spiteful visions of Billy and Wyatt, the motorcycle-riding hippies of Easy Rider. He forced the bike off the road, and though the captain recovered from other injuries, one of his arms was made absolutely, totally useless, forever.

The savages who beat a homeless man to death, or set him on fire, have no idea whom they are attacking, but they too need a story to tell themselves. Chances are, they convince themselves they are doing a good deed by ridding society of a nameless degenerate who will be missed by no one.

And violence happens through the disordered thinking of an individual who wants to escape from life and can’t think of a better way to do it than by taunting the police, in hopes of a quick death that will leave behind lingering problems for officers of the law.

One thing is clear: If homelessness were ended, this violence would also end. And how can that be accomplished? One measure that could go a long way toward a solution would be the adoption of the Universal Living Wage, which would end homelessness for more than 1,000,000 minimum-wage workers, and prevent economic homelessness for all 10.1 million minimum-wage workers. Learn more about the Universal Living Wage here, and from Richard R. Troxell’s Looking Up at the Bottom Line.

Reactions?

Source: “Two plead guilty in fatal beating of homeless man,” Redding.com, 01/07/11
Source: “FWB Homeless Man Lit on Fire; Investigators Still Looking for Suspect,” WJHG-TV, 01/31/11
Source: “Grand jury reports: Portland police shot homeless veteran 10 times after he advanced holding a knife,” OregonLive, 01/28/11
Source: “Man found guilty in 2007 death at homeless camp,” Tampabay.com, 01/14/11
Source: “One Homeless Man Accused of Murdering Another Homeless Man in Laurel,” Columbia.Patch.com, 12/04/10
Image by sparr0 (Clarence Risher), used under its Creative Commons license.