Bum bashing

Staffers here at the Reno News & Review reeled in horror at the story in the Reno Gazette-Journal, “Attacks raise fears among homeless.” It seems a homeless man was beaten to death during Labor Day weekend, and two men have been jailed.

“Christopher Michael Maciolek, 19, known as “E-Smoke,” and Finley Byrdette Fultz, 18, were booked into jail Friday on suspicion of open murder in connection with the beating and stomping of [James Markham] Beasley, 55, a Reno transient,” reported Jaclyn O’Malley on Sept. 25. “Both suspects are unemployed, live with their mothers and are suspected in battering two other homeless people Sept. 3, police said.”

But why should anyone be horrified, or even surprised, by this “news?”

It’s not as if people in Reno haven’t been beating up homeless people for a long time. This one died from the violence, but how many over the years froze to death before a homeless shelter was finally completed?

You wouldn’t have had to live in Reno for very long to remember how the Reno City Council used to blame the homeless population for the crappy state of downtown Reno.

Remember how it was acceptable for the casinos to hand out free-drink and cheap-food tickets indiscriminately, but it was the “bums’ “ fault for taking advantage of the tickets and hanging out downtown, where they frightened tourists away from the casinos? Thank goodness, the drug dealers today can afford to dress well.

Or how about the so-called sweeps of the illegal homeless camps down at the Truckee River by the Reno Police Department and the Washoe County Sheriff in 2001, which garnered national attention? Taking the last few possessions of the destitute and burning them because the legally poor were screwing up somebody’s idea of what a prosperous little town should look like was the worst kind of inhumanity toward our country’s tired and poor. And if you’ll remember, there were many people in our “community” cheering on the police efforts. After all, then as now, there was a law against sleeping at the river. And the fact that there was nowhere else to go was irrelevant.

Of course, 2001 was the deep, dark past. Well, yeah, except that it was just August of last year that the Reno City Council passed an ordinance making it illegal for people to loiter and sleep in doorways of downtown businesses if a sign is posted telling them it’s prohibited. And we sneer down our double-chins at Las Vegas, which last year actually made it illegal to feed the homeless in parks—you probably read about that one in the New York Times.

No, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by mankind’s inhumanity toward the destitute and weak. We can predict if those two men are found guilty of this murder, people will be willing to hang them high, and they will consider the problem of beating up homeless people solved. They will never look back and see the long road that brought us to this rough patch, or that most roads continue past the rough patches to new rough patches.