The homeless could become a protected class under New Mexico’s hate crime laws, after two homeless men were violently killed in Albuquerque this past weekend.
A bill that would have expanded hate crimes to include the homeless failed to pass before the legislative session ended in 2013, but its sponsor, state Sen. Bill O’Neill (D) said he plans to try again.
“It’s more on people’s radar screens here,” O’Neill said.
On Saturday, the bodies of two unidentified homeless men were found in a field, and three teenage boys were arrested and charged in connection with the slayings, according to the Albuquerque Journal. One of the accused teenagers told officers he and his friends had beaten at least 50 other people who were homeless, authorities say.
“The evidence is clear that homeless folks are being targeted, primarily by young adults,” said Michael Stoops, a spokesman for the National Coalition for the Homeless.
There were 109 violent acts against the homeless reported in the United States in 2013, including 13 that resulted in deaths, according to the group. Half of all attacks are committed by people younger than 20, and 72 percent by people younger than 30, the group reports.
Currently, seven states — Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington — along with Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, and the cities of Cleveland, Los Angeles and Seattle have some form of protections involving the homeless under their hate crime laws.
“Part of the intent is to send a direct message that we as New Mexicans care about the most vulnerable in our community,” O’Neill said.
New Mexico’s hate crimes law currently covers race, religion, age, disability, gender and sexual orientation. Those sentenced for hate crimes can be jailed up to two additional years in state facilities, O’Neill said.
Homelessness is defined by the bill as lacking a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, or sleeping in cars, parks, abandoned buildings or a shelter.