LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
A new report by the National Coalition for the Homeless shows that hate crimes against the homeless dropped last year from its all-time high in 2007, but there's been a troubling increase in the fatality rate. In 2007, 28 homeless people were killed in 160 reported attacks. Last year there were only 106 attacks, but 27 homeless people died.
In some areas the attacks have prompted official action. On Thursday, Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty signed emergency legislation that classifies some offenses against the homeless as hate crimes. In October, Maryland will become the first state to fully protect homeless people in its hate crime laws, and there are efforts to do the same in several other states, as well as in Congress.
Brian Levin directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism in San Bernardino, California. He helped the National Coalition for the Homeless compile the report and he joins us from member station WBUR in Boston. Welcome to the program.
Mr. BRIAN LEVIN (Director, Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism): Thank you so much for having me.
HANSEN: Why do homeless people need specific protection under hate crime laws?
Mr. LEVIN: I think there are several reasons. We have to look at what are the key criteria that we have hate crime laws in the first place and do the homeless fit that? These criteria include a heightened risk of victimization above and beyond what the general population has, the discriminatory selection of them as victims and a definable identifiable set of offenders. And in all those categories, the homeless really do match other traditionally added hate crime categories such as race, religion, sexual orientation.
HANSEN: And you found in your report that most of the perpetrators of the attacks are teens and age 25 and younger?
Mr. LEVIN: You're absolutely right. Forty-three percent of the offenders were age 13 to 19, and 73 percent were age 25 and under. My friends here in Boston, Jack McDevitt and Jack Levin, did a study and it showed that the majority of hate crime offenders were young folks who were out for excitement and peer validation - almost out for a sport.
Next were people who were protecting turf. And lastly were the hardened hate mongers; the mission offenders. So the offender information, the offender categories also fits hand-in-glove with what we see with regard to attacks on traditionally covered groups.
HANSEN: Have you heard any concern at all that the list of protected people may get so long that it begins to lose meaning?
Mr. LEVIN: Yes, and I think that's an important issue. But I think the more weighty issue is: Do these attacks fit the criteria which we traditionally require for inclusion in these statutes?
Over 10 years, we've seen about 244, 245 hate-motivated homicides against the homeless. And what I mean is, those homicides, where there is not any other apparent motive such as robbery, insurance fraud, drug deal or personal dispute, when you compare that to the number of hate crime homicides as calculated by the FBI, it's about almost two-and-a-half times as many homeless people killed in these attacks than all the other hate-motivated homicides combined on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, et cetera.
HANSEN: Brian Levin directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism in San Bernardino, California. Thanks for your time.
Mr. LEVIN: Thank you so much for having me.
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