Homeless may be protected under new hate crime law

New District legislation could classify attacks on homeless people as hate crimes in an attempt to reduce occurrences like the brutal murder of a local homeless man just off campus last December.

Councilmember Mary Cheh, D-Ward 3, introduced legislation on June 2 that would designate attacks on the homeless as hate crimes, which carries more severe penalties for those convicted of the crimes. Yoshio Nakada, a homeless man who died from multiple chop wounds to the head, skull fractures and a subarachnoid hemorrhage, was found unconscious in the 2400 block of Virginia Avenue on Dec. 24 and was pronounced dead on scene.

The Metropolitan Police Department is continuing to offer a $25,000 reward to anyone providing information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for Nakada’s death.

Cheh’s “Homelessness Bias-Related Crime Amendment Act of 2009” seeks to “provide an important protection for some of the District’s most vulnerable residents,” according to a news release. More than 30 percent of D.C.’s homeless population has been attacked, according to the release.

“The murder last Christmas Eve made the general D.C. community aware of the situation,” Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said last week. “We hope the passage of new legislation will send a symbolic and practical message that attacks against the homeless will not be tolerated and if people do it, it will be prosecuted as a hate crime.”

Stoops said that between 1999 and 2007, there were 774 attacks on homeless people in 45 states, with 217 of those attacks resulting in death. The main perpetrators of these beatings seem to be young people – 86 percent of those accused and convicted of attacking the homeless in 2007 were under the age of 25, according to a study published by Stoops’ organization.

Maryland is currently the only state to include the homeless as a protected class under hate crime legislation, Stoops said.

“I hope D.C. passes this legislation and that D.C. and Maryland will be a model for the rest of the country,” he said.

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