Editorial: Local media cast homeless as violent

Violence is not a product of homelessness. Violence is a product of society. The corporate media would have you believe otherwise. They will brush over dozens of reasons why people are living on the streets, and tell you only of the horror that is happening with homeless people in our city. Most of the media will very rarely ever highlight the beautiful and heroic things that happen among the homeless population, instead they will have you believe that all homeless people are violent, or needy and can not do for themselves.

The circumstances of homelessness, by definition, make homeless people extremely vulnerable to crime. They are often isolated from the social support structures that most of us take for granted, and they are often conditioned to believe that a call to the police is not necessarily in their favor.

There are many assumptions the media will draw upon when writing about the homeless. The Oregonian states in its June 13, editorial titled Portland's barbaric street life: "Law enforcement options are to conduct sweeps of homeless camps, and try to enforce some constitutionally questionable ordinances banning camping and sitting on the sidewalk. These options are not ideal, but even the flawed choices available are better than letting gangs of people rule one another by savage intimidation, brute force ... and murder." All the comments above do is put fear into people about other people experiencing homelessness. Both, sweeps under questionable laws or savage violence is not acceptable. The criminalization of the homeless is not a viable solution to the problems found on the streets, including violence, nor is striking fear into the people about homelessness the answer.

Dan Savage, the popular radio host of the talk radio show "Savage Nation," said on April 23, 2002 that, "In a sane society, (bums) would be beaten up, thrown in a van, and thrown in a work camp."

No other socioeconomic group or race, would have been stigmatized like homeless people have in the local media stemming from the Jessica Williams murder.

You would have never heard civic leaders or the media proposing to sweep all black people out of neighborhoods when a black person kills a black person, but throughout this ordeal homeless people have been branded as being violent in nature by the media, and this just isn't true.

With comments such as these, and lazy journalism by many of the reporters following the Jessica Williams murder, society begins to associate violence as a direct product of homelessness. In the first series of news stories coming out of many of the local newspapers I did not see one quote by a homeless person. It's disappointing that with the quality of journalists in this town, they would write a news story on a certain class of people and not get the views of the people who are effected the most. Portland works hard, and in large part succeeds in keeping its homeless population out of sight and out of mind. Now the public is taking notice of homelessness, but for all the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, people having been living on the streets for decades in Portland. It is the job of the media, and our elected officials to listen to the voices of the homeless when distressed, not to stereotype the homeless population for the crimes, however despicable by one street family.