SANTA FE (KRQE) – When police arrested a trio of teens they say beat two homeless men to death for fun last summer, it set the wheels in motion for a state lawmaker. He couldn’t believe it wasn’t a hate crime. He’s working on changing that now.
As it stands, New Mexico’s hate crime statute covers race, religion, age, disability, gender and sexual orientation. Sen. Bill O’Neill has introduced a bill that would add homelessness to that list.
“Folks are being routinely assaulted and targeted and killed,” the Democrat from Albuquerque said Thursday. “That’s not OK.”
The homeless population would be defined as anyone “who lacks a fixed, adequate and regular night time residence,” applying to people who live in a car, park, abandoned building or on the streets.
O’Neill said he first got a look at the everyday challenges homeless people deal with by volunteering at an Albuquerque shelter.
Then, last July, when two homeless men were beaten to death in a vacant lot off west Central, O’Neill said he had seen enough. Police said the three teens behind it admitted beating up at least 50 other homeless people over the course of a year.
District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said in the days following it didn’t qualify as a hate crime.
O’Neill is now hoping to change the law.
“New Mexico cares about folks,” he said. “We care about the folks that are less fortunate, out there on the streets, and we can send a clear message that this is not acceptable here in New Mexico.”
A hate crime charge adds time to a sentence. Seven other states have hate crime laws protecting the homeless.
All three teens have all plead not guilty and will go to trial in October.
The homeless men who were beaten to death were Native American, but because there’s no evidence they were attacked because of their ethnicity, it didn’t qualify as a hate crime.
The bill, SB 119, will have its first committee hearing Friday in the Senate Judiciary.