The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday that takes steps toward classifying attacks against homeless individuals as hate crimes.
The resolution promises that the council will support or sponsor any state legislation that would add homelessness as a protected class under hate crime law.
If homelessness becomes a protected class, misdemeanor crimes can be bumped up to felonies and other sentences can be enhanced under California penal code.
Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez created the resolution after a series of violent crimes targeting homeless people in the Los Angeles area this year. Most recently on Sept. 30 a homeless man and woman were doused with battery acid in Devonwood Park. Throughout the month of September, a man killed four homeless men and injured four others in Los Angeles and Santa Monica.
"This is a logical response in light of violent attacks against homeless people," Sandy Tolan, a USC professor who reports on homelessness in Los Angeles, said. "Hopefully it will offer a measure of protection for some of the most vulnerable in our city."
The first federal hate crime legislation passed in 1968. Since then, all but five states have their own hate crime laws to cover classes of people in addition to what the federal government recognizes.
In California, The Ralph Act makes it a civil right for individuals to be protected from violence and threats due to race, religion, disability, sexual orientation and other characteristics. Other states have broadened their hate crime definitions to encompass housing status, including Maryland, Alaska and Florida.