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Suspects in Beating Death of Homeless Man Remain At Large

by TJ Johnston for Street Sheet
Tai Lam is the latest casualty of homeless deaths caused by violence in San Francisco; illustrates nationwide epidemic.
This much is known: On Nov. 23, a 67-year-old disabled homeless man was beaten to death while sleeping in an alley near Sutter and Montgomery streets by the Crocker Galleria, an upscale mall. He was pummeled at least twice between 11 p.m. and midnight and he was left there until his body was discovered at 7 a.m. the next day.

Surveillance footage show three men wearing hoodies and baggy clothes having a smoke on the Galleria steps. According to the San Francisco Police Department, these three men are suspects in the killing, and there was no reason behind it.

“There is no motive for this murder,” police spokesman Albie Esparza said. “We do not have suspects identified.”

Homeless advocates said Tai Lam’s attackers saw him as a target of opportunity: alone, disabled and homeless. In other words, someone unlikely to fight back — he was five-foot-five and weighed less than 100 pounds — or report the beating if he had survived, and that was why Lam was killed.

Coalition on Homelessness director Jennifer Friedenbach wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece: “He was an easy target because he was sleeping outside in an isolated area. He was an easy target because he was disabled (maybe they saw his leg braces?). He was an easy target because he was a member of a class of people who are thought to be worth less than their housed brethren.”

Each year, the National Coalition for the Homeless compiles statistics on violent incidents against homeless people. Since it started gathering accounts in 1999, the Washington, D.C.-based national coalition tracked 1,437 violent acts resulting in 375 deaths nationwide. In 2013, the last year figures are available, California led the U.S. with 33 attacks out of the national total of 109 crimes.

These represent only the cases reported to authorities, medical professionals and others.

Lam was just the city’s latest fatality from homeless-directed assaults. Four years earlier, Luis Alonzo Montoya died from a bludgeoning at a stairwell in a Mission District rooming house. Occasionally, the media report non-lethal assaults, such as the 2013 stomping of 39-year-old Elizabeth Murray, who was sleeping on Sixth Street. Surveillance footage captured the image of a man kicking her seven times. Timothy Chase, the man charged with the assault, reportedly kicked her because of the odor in the area.

Apparently, animus drives these attacks. In its annual reports on homeless-directed violence, the national coalition correlates the prevalence of anti-homelessness ordinances with crimes on homeless people in California and Florida: Hatred against homeless people thrives where laws barring activities related to being outside and visibly poor are enforced. The two states — cited for prohibitions on camping, panhandling and food sharing, among other acts of homelessness — also usually lead the nation in violence against homeless people.

“One possible explanation for this is the message that criminalizing homelessness sends to the general public: ‘Homeless people do not matter and are not worthy of living in our city,’” according to the national coalition’s 2014 report. “This message is blatant in the attitudes many cities have toward homeless people and can be used as an internal justification for attacking someone.”

Last year, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty noted the increase in anti-homeless ordinances in 187 U.S. cities since 2011. The law center held San Francisco as an example of increased criminalization of homelessness, including the city’s sit-lie and parks closure laws.



Nov. 6, 2013 - Elizabeth Murray was kicked and stomped on while sleeping on a Sixth Street sidewalk. Arrest made on Timothy Chase, who faces two counts of felony assault.

April 22, 2011 - Attempted robbery by four people resulted in burning of a homeless tent in Golden Gate Park. No arrests made.

Oct. 16, 2010 - When he was sleeping in the Mission Playground, Jose Mineros was kicked and spray-painted. Maricio Caraz, 18, was arrested.

July 25, 2010 - A 56-year-old African-American man unidentified in media reports survived a slashing by a self-proclaimed skinhead. The knife that was used was emblazoned with a swastika.

May 24, 2010 - Luis Alonzo Montoya was bludgeoned to death. Roger Pacheco-Paz reportedly followed him to the stairwell in Mission District rooming house where Montoya stayed.

Feb. 15, 2009 - Peter Azadian, 57, was beaten to death in South of Market. Four attackers fled in an SUV.


Nationwide (from 1999 to 2013)
1,437 - Violent acts against homeless people
375 - Deaths from attacks on homeless people

California (2013)
33 - Violent acts on homeless people (leads U.S.)
3 - Deaths

Source: National Coalition for the Homeless reports on homeless violence, 2010 - 2014
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Katheryn Preston
Mon, Feb 2, 2015 1:42PM
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