Homeless Man Set on Fire By 3 White Men With Shaved Heads
On Saturday night, three men crept up to a 58-year-old homeless man who was sleeping on a Ventura, California beach. They poured lighter fluid all over his sleeping bag and set him on fire, then fled the scene while a witness tried to put out the six-foot flames with sand, according to KABC. The perpetrators were white men with shaved heads, clad in black, according to witnesses.
The victim, 58-year-old John Frazier, who spent his time sitting on the beach not bothering anyone, according to residents, suffered second and third degree burns all over his body, according to the report. He's in critical but stable condition.
“We were talking about how beautiful the sunset was and the fish sculptures and how nice the evening was and he was just a really nice guy,” Elaine Lutz told KNBC about Frazier, according to Raw Story.
"It's so hard to believe that they can be so brutal. It's just ridiculous," another dazed-looking resident told KABC.
Sadly, it's not that hard to believe; homeless people are often the targets of brutal, senseless crimes. From rape to assault to murder, violence is a fact of life for many people living outdoors, homelessness advocates say. According to a 2014 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless, violent attacks on the homeless grew by 23 percent in 2013 from the previous year (the measure is based on reported attacks, so it may be a lowball estimate. It's also difficult to know if the increase is due to more people reporting the crimes. Homelessness advocates have long lobbied for the government to collect data on crimes against the homeless). Between 1999 and 2013 the NCH has cataloged 1,437 instances of violence against homeless people by non-homeless people.
It's not hard to see why the homeless are so vulnurable to violence: they have nowhere safe to go and are widely dehumanized. Instead of investing in safe shelters and housing, many US cities opt to enact laws that further marginalize the homeless, like anti-panhandling and anti-camping measures.
As professor and homelessness expert Amy Donley told Al Jazeera, “These laws devalue homeless people and further distance them from mainstream society,” she said, adding that the visible homeless who are not in shelters “are the people that society most fears, and yet they are the most vulnerable of homeless people, in terms of physical attacks.”
Men under 30 -- especially teenagers -- commit the large majority of crimes against the homeless, according to the NCH report. "Some who target the homeless are “mission offenders, who believe they are on a mission to cleanse the world of a particular evil,” says the NCH. “Others are scapegoat offenders, who violently act out their resentment toward the perceived growing economic power of a particular racial or ethnic group,” notes Al Jazeera.
Homeless people also suffer violence at the hands of police, many of whom do not receive proper training on non-violent ways to deal with people who might suffer from mental illness. Last year New Mexico police gunned down a man living in a part of the Albuquerque foothills where camping is not unauthorized. He agreed to come down and had started gathering his belongings when police chucked a flash-grade grenade at him, causing him to draw his knife. Police then shot him to death.