A surge in vicious, unprovoked assaults on homeless people has put weight behind efforts to reclassify such attacks as hate crimes, the New York Times reports. Attacks have risen as more people have been pushed onto the streets by the recession, and researchers say the assailants are generally men or, more often, teenage boys who see the homeless as easy targets and beat, burn, and kill them for sport. "A lot of what we see are thrill offenders," says one criminologist.
Some 244 homeless people have been killed by non-homeless people over the last decade, according to a new report from the National Coalition for the Homeless. This fall, Maryland's hate-crime law will expand to cover attacks on the homeless, and at least five other states are considering similar moves. Opponents, however, argue that applying laws designed to tackle racial hatred to a transient condition like homelessness could end up weakening them.