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HPCR: Targeting the Homeless Is Un-American

Bates & Dodds Funeral ServicesThe increasing violence against people experiencing homelessness is a subject that previous posts have barely even begun to touch. The long list of incidents in “HPCR: Protect the Homeless From What?” was only the tip of the iceberg. Of course, the USA is not the only place where this happens, but it’s the place we know most about, and wish we didn’t.

Earlier this year, bizarre news came from Cleveland, OH, where Frank Dienes was charged with aggravated murder, tampering with evidence, and abuse of a corpse. What he allegedly did was shoot a homeless man in the head and bury the body in a shallow backyard grave. Actually, the victim, Joseph Kopp, was not technically homeless, since he had been staying there for more than a year. Why Kopp’s landlord went from benefactor to murderer is a murky question.

Journalist John Caniglia reported,

The Dieneses’ took in tenants, often people who had few other places to go, neighbors said. They said they believed the Dieneses wanted Kopp to move out, but they were unsure why.

Fifty-eight-year-old Kopp got around on a bicycle. Though mentally ill and resistant of treatment for it, he seems to have been known around the neighborhood as kind, friendly, and gregarious. He once saved up $400 working at odd jobs and donated it to a soup kitchen. Eight hundred people stopped by the funeral home to pay their respects, and 350 went to the service.

Apparently, Dienes tried to establish that he too was mentally ill, having hallucinations and so forth, but the judge didn’t buy it. The plot thickened when police began to look at Dienes again for the 1989 murder of a 10-year-old girl, Amy Mihajlevic, that he had been questioned about in the past.

Journalist Paul Kiska wrote,

Several neighbors say Joe Kopp… told them for years in the 1990s that Dienes killed Mihajlevic… Dienes and Kopp were neighbors 21 years ago in Seven Hills. ‘There was a relationship that went back quite some time and to what extent that relationship was and exactly what it was is something that I do think will be an issue at trial,’ [defense lawyer] Friedman said.

Supposedly, Kopp had even gone to the local police, to report something about Dienes and the dead girl, but they were not inclined to listen to a mentally ill homeless person. At any rate, Dienes is facing a jury trial next month, and no doubt the story will become even more complicated.

Most stories aren’t that complicated. Usually, it’s more like, a group of swaggering young men get drunk and go out looking for a homeless person to assault. Leaving aside for a moment all other considerations of morality and civilization, hate crimes are particularly stupid because they have no utility. Theft is at least understandable — the criminal gets money, or something to sell for money. There’s no profit in kicking the stuffing out of a homeless person.

Maybe that argument would work to stop these predators. They seem to think of themselves as great American patriots. But doing something without a profit motive is very un-American. So, cut it out, violent attackers.

And what about the rest of us, who don’t spend our evenings trolling for victims? We’re tuned in to the other ways in which persecuting the homeless is un-American. American is the Emma Lazarus poem attached to the Statue of Liberty, which explicitly mentions the words “poor” and “homeless”:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Everybody who ever arrived in this country started out homeless. Even the king’s favorites, who were given land, had to build shelter. Everybody’s ancestors included people experiencing homelessness, and some of our family trees have homeless people in them right now. And they’re having a rough time of it. Which is why the Homeless Protected Class Resolution proposes to recognize the indigent homeless population as deserving the rights and protections that go with that protected-class designation.

Reactions?

Source: “Seven Hills businessman charged with killing homeless man,” Blog.Cleveland.com/04/18/11
Source: “Family, community mourn Joe Kopp, slain homeless man,” Blog.Cleveland.com, 04/23/11
Source: “Attorneys for Frank Dienes say he’ll be cleared in Mihaljevic case again,” NewsNet5.com, 05/12/11
Image by striatic (hobvias sudoneighm), used under its Creative Commons license.