By Rebecca Sheir
A bill co-sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) would count crimes against homeless people as hate crimes.
But members of a national coalition against hate crimes are split on the issue.
The FBI tracks hate crimes committed on the basis of a person's race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, gender and gender identity, plus crimes committed by juveniles and against juveniles.
But Michael Lieberman, co-chair of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Hate Crimes Task Force says homelessness is different.
"Homelessness is not an immutable characteristic," he notes. "Society is actively trying to end homelessness.
Lieberman, who serves as Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, opposes Cardin's act. Fellow Task Force member Neil Donovan, who directs the National Coalition for the Homeless, supports it.
"I think hate crimes are crimes against an individual because of what they represent to another person," he says. "And we have countless examples of people assaulted based solely on the fact that the person either believed that the person was homeless or knew them to be homeless."
Maryland, D.C. and Maine already have extended hate crime protection to homeless people. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to take up Cardin's bill Thursday.