Harley Lawrence killing points to troubling trend

The death of Harley Lawrence at a bus stop in Berwick, N.S., for which two men have been charged with first-degree murder, adds another victim to the growing list of homeless people targeted in attacks across North America and around the world.

Death of homeless N.S. man follows disturbing examples in B.C., Alberta

A man person panhandles for money during a cold snap in Toronto. (The Canadian Press)

The death of Harley Lawrence at a bus stop in Berwick, N.S., for which two men have been charged with first-degree murder, adds another victim to the growing list of homeless people targeted in attacks across North America and around the world.

In both Canada and U.S., cases of the homeless being beaten — and even killed — have made headlines.

Terms such as "bum hunting" have been coined to describe the attacks; in some cases perpetrators film the violence and post their videos online.

In 2009, a 44-year-old homeless man was badly beaten in an underground parking lot in Burnaby, B.C. A teenager was arrested in the case.

In 2004, two 19-year-old men in Calgary were convicted of beating a homeless man, Kelly Littlelight, with a steel bar and urinating on him. Their friends filmed the violence, laughing. The victim survived.

There have also been a slew of attacks and killings in the U.S.

Three teens — two of them just 13 years old — were charged in September 2013 with murder in New Jersey. They are accused of attacking a 46-year-old homeless man named Ralph Eric Santiago in what police call a game of "knockout." It's a trend where people try to punch and knock out an unsuspecting bystander.

Another teenage trio in Florida are accused of going into a homeless camp in June and beating Franklin Randolph, 54. He was found coated in dirt, feces and urine, according to the Tampa Bay Times, and died four days later in hospital.

Homeless people have also been set on fire.

In 2011, Elaina Davis — a 57-year-old homeless woman in Pittsburgh — was raped, strangled and her body set on fire, according to news reports.

Homeless more often victims of crime

It's not just violence, but humiliation. Last year, the Toronto Police Service put out a public appeal for help in identifying a person in an online video who was urinating on a homeless man.

In Halifax, the executive director of Shelter Nova Scotia said he couldn't recall any local cases of people being attacked exclusively for being homeless.

Don Spicer, a former police officer, said there can be a perception among the public that the homeless are more likely to be criminals and some are pushed into a life of crime.

On the flip side, he said, the homeless are victims of crime at much higher rates than the general population.

"That's one of the misnomers out there that people don’t really think about, they don't think of people experiencing homelessness as victims," Spicer said.

Targeted violence against the homeless has become such a problem in some places that the National Coalition for the Homeless — an advocacy group in the United States — warned in a report last year that "hate crimes" against the homeless are at troubling levels.

'Unbridled malice'

The report looked at attacks against the homeless since 1999. Over a 13-year period, researchers documented nearly 1,300 "bias motivated" attacks and 339 deaths in the U.S. caused by "housed perpetrators."

"In 2011, the Unites States not only saw an increase in hate-motivated lethal deaths, but a rise in those crimes as serial murders," the report said. "An equally alarming trend was the rate of violent and lethal acts committed by juveniles, some as young as 13."

Nearly three-quarters of the offenders were under 30 years of age. Almost all were men, according to the report.

"This devolution in hate crimes speaks to the nature of the relationship between the victim, the criminal and the crime," said the study. "Like never before, we are seeing individuals strike out with unbridled malice towards an individual or individuals of their own mind’s making."

In 2011, 32 homeless people in the U.S. died in such attacks.

"These crimes are believed to be motivated by the perpetrators' bias against homeless individuals or their ability to target homeless people with relative ease," the report said.

"The documented violence includes everything from murder to beatings, rapes, and setting people on fire."


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