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Statement in Support of Senate Bill 151: Hate Crimes Against the Homeless

By Julie Varner, Associate Director for Social Concerns

Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (02/04/09)

Today the Conference comes to you in support of Senate Bill 151, which would expand the definition of hate crimes to include hate-related attacks committed against homeless individuals.

Unfortunately, Maryland has reason to seek such legislation – at least three homeless Marylanders have been killed by attackers who targeted them because they had no home. In 1992, a 63-year-old homeless Korean War veteran was found dead in Anne Arundel County. He had been beaten, soaked with beer and urine, kicked down a ravine, covered with trash, and buried in a shallow grave. His attackers called him a “worthless bum” as they carried out these horrifying acts. In 2001, a group of young men decided to “clean up” their South Baltimore neighborhood by “bum stomping” – bludgeoning homeless men to force them out of the area. Two homeless men were killed and several others were seriously injured. When asked why they had done such a thing, one of the attackers answered, “I consider them trash.”

While the attackers of these homeless individuals may have called them “worthless bums” and considered them “trash”, the Conference believes otherwise. Ten years ago, in his 1997 Lenten message, Pope John Paul II said, “In the Old Testament, the Torah teaches that strangers and the homeless in general, inasmuch as they are exposed to all sorts of dangers, deserve special concern from the believer.”

Homeless Marylanders also deserve special concern from the State. They deserve the protection that SB 151, and the attention accompanying it, will bring them. Maryland must not treat hate-related attacks on the homeless as unworthy of notice, but must rather raise their visibility by considering them, and prosecuting them, as hate crimes.

The Conference respectfully asks your support for SB 151. Thank you for your consideration.