f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

September 8, 2008

attacks on homeless hit home in Pontiac

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,viewpoint — David Giacalone @ 6:48 pm

– self-portrait by Wilford “Frenchie” Hamilton (May 2008); via Oakland Press; full-color version below  –

school’s out
the homeless man
hides in a doorway

… by dagosan

It’s too bad Wilford Hamilton couldn’t make it to yesterday’s Villagers Outdoor Art Show here in the Stockade neighborhood of Schenectady, where a hundred regional artists exhibited their best work.  With his love of art, humor and people, the affable man from Pontiac, Michigan, known as “Frenchie” would surely have basked in our sunny, late-summer weather and made the day even brighter for the friendly crowd.  His travel budget would never have allowed the trip, but something more profound kept the homeless Frenchie from joining us: he died two weeks ago, after a few kids on a lark (or as a gang initiation) severely beat him. (see a news video from tv20Detroit, Aug. 26, 2008)  As The Oakland Press, which had employed him in its packaging department, reported:

“The 61-year-old was hospitalized and underwent brain surgery after a POH Regional Medical Center security guard found him on the ground, bleeding from the head Aug. 21 in an alley near the hospital’s day care facility.

“Three teenage boys — two 14-year-olds and a 15-year-old — are accused of attacking Hamilton and three others on separate days in the downtown area.”

update (Oct. 29, 2009): See “Mich. teen guilty in beating death of homeless man” (Associated Press, Oct. 29, 2009). Dontez Tillman and Thomas McCloud, both 15 years old, have been found guilty in Frenchie’s death and (unless pardoned by the Governor) will spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Frenchie didn’t merely miss our Stockade Art Show.  Researching this piece, I discovered a sad coincidence:  Wilford Hamilton died a week before the gallery MOCA DC opened its Homeless Art Project in cooperation with the National Coalition for the Homeless. The exhibit, which runs from September 5 to September 27, 2008, features “an extensive body of art depicting actual homeless Americans in their surroundings on the street. Other art, from homeless artists who reside on the streets or in homeless shelters within the city, will also be on display,” along with a variety of sketches of the homeless, essays and other items relevant to the issues of homelessness.  The Gallery and the Coalition say:

“The project has several objectives, chief of which is to highlight the plight of America’s growing homeless population.”

In addition to the show, artists affiliated with the gallery have committed to a post-exhibit project to provide art instruction to the homeless on an ongoing basis. If you’d like to see the Homeless Art exhibit, MOCA DC is located at 1054 31st St NW, Canal Square, in the heart of Georgetown, and is open Wed – Sat, 1 – 6 pm.

storm warning
the watercolorist works
in shades of grey

… by Tom Painting – The Heron’s Nest

Meanwhile, in Pontiac, there’s been an outpouring of affection and grief over the death of this gentle man “known for his friendliness and signature beret,” and a Michigan friend wrote last week to tell me about the story. For more press coverage see “Pontiac teens facing charges in killing: 4 people attacked, 1 man dead after spree, police say” (Free Press, Aug. 26, 2008); and “3 middle schoolers accused of killing, beating” (Associated Press/mlive.com, 8/26/2008). [update (October 22, 2008): see “teens face life in fatal beating,” Detroit News, Oct. 16, 2008]

Shaun Byron of The Oakland Press has done several articles about Frenchie. In addition to two linked above, last Friday she wrote the touching “Friends of ‘Frenchie’ raise funds for funeral” (September 5, 2008). The one that should make us all come to attention, however, is the piece “Attacks on homeless rise: 2 Pontiac men among recent victims” (September 3, 2008).  You see, Frenchie was very much an individual, but his beating and death are far from unique.

against the tombstone
with the faded name
homeless man rests

………….. by George Swede – Almost Unseen (2000)

Over the past couple of years, Frenchie’s friends in Pontiac — like myself — probably heard about the rash of attacks on the homeless that has spread across our nation since the start of the Millennium.  We mostly clucked our tongues and went on with our lives, when we saw news reports such as these:

It took the violent, senseless death of a homeless person who had touched our lives in a positive way to make us pause and seriously consider the horror of gangs of juveniles targeting some of our nation’s most vulnerable people (who are often in poor health and by definition without a private sanctuary and a secure door to lock out danger).  Frenchie was no anonymous, throwaway person — not just a nuisance or the source of indifference, shame or fear, who we’d rather keep off our minds.  As the Oakland Press put it:

“His death saddened many people who knew him or called him friend.  Many people said they knew him as a harmless man and talented artist who had fallen on hard times and was living on the streets.”

“The death and hospitalization of two homeless men who were savagely beaten in downtown Pontiac has unnerved many who wonder what possible motive someone would have for the vicious attacks.”

Upon reflection, the people of Pontiac — and all of us — need to realize that “The slaying of 61-year-old Wilford ‘Frenchie’ Hamilton, as well as the attack [that same week on another] homeless man, could be an example of a chilling national trend of assaults on the homeless by young people.”  The readily-ignored statistics suddenly seem relevant to those who knew Frenchie.  For example, as the Oakland Press explained:

  • A 2006 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless found there were 142 attacks against homeless people that year. Of these assaults, 20 resulted in death. . . There were 60 such attacks reported in 1999, the year in which the coalition began to study the problem.
  • Overwhelmingly, 88 percent of the attackers were 25 or younger and 95 percent were male. No less than 68 percent of those accused and convicted in the attacks were between the ages of 13 and 19. And,
  • Assaults on the destitute also are occurring more frequently in smaller communities than the large cities on the East and West coasts, where they had been most common during the 1980s.

For the newest info and survey data from the National Coalition on the Homeless, see their Fact Sheet (June 2008).

Similar acts of violence have probably occured throughout human history, but the rapid rise of the phenomenon in our “civilized” nation calls for intelligent reflection and action. No one knows for sure why so many American kids are choosing to assault the homeless.  However, OP says that “state law enforcement agencies investigating other assaults on the homeless believe the attacks are spurred by parents’ negative views of the homeless, which are then passed on to their children.”  In addition, homeless advocates point to the popularity of “Bumfights,” a video series created in 2001 that features homeless people battering one another for money.  One online retailer of Bumfights Vol. 1 called it “The World’s Fastest Selling Independent DVD.”  NCH blames “negative stereotypes reinforced by the media and intolerant people.”

The Gang here at f/k/a urge all those who want to learn more about this scourge and possible solutions to read the Coalition’s latest report: Hate, Violence, and Death on Main Street USA: A Report on Hate Crimes And Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness, 2007.  To start doing something about it, see the web page “Stop Hate-Motivated Violence Against Homeless People” from the Coalition.  You’ll find a Position Statement that says:

“It is time for us to demonstrate that we will not tolerate intimidation of our homeless neighbors. We must act now before the situation worsens. The solution is threefold – tracking the problem in cooperation with local law  enforcement, building education programs that prevent the problem before it occurs, and including homeless status in hate crimes statutes. We owe it to our homeless neighbors, many of whom have served their communities and their nation, to make their safety a priority.”

first frost
a homeless man appears
in the new development

. . . . . by Yu Chang, from Upstate Dim Sum

Of course, there are no easy solutions.  But we won’t find them without looking and making a commitment to act and advocate.  If you like your information in blog-post form, visit the 13th juror, by poverty lawyer and law professor Jacqueline Dowd.  She’s active in Project Homeless Connect and has been closely covering a homeless homicide case in Florida lately.

. . . This posting was inspired by Wilford “Frenchie” Hamilton, and the love and affection for him shown by his many friends and acquaintances.  I hope we’ll think of Frenchie to help counter negative stereotypes about the homeless and to help motivate meaningful action that will put an end to the trend that resulted in his meaningless death.  I sure hope Frenchie would have liked many of the poems I’ve gathered in his memory in this posting, by our Honored Guest Poets. (you’ll find more in our earlier post today “thinking about the homeless“)

p.s. We made a TinyURL to use if you want to share this posting: update (Nov. 20, 2008): For more details about the life of Frenchie Hamilton, see “Family: Man’s death ends haunting past” (The Oakland Express, November 10, 2008), which is based on an interview with his sister-in-law, Laura Hamilton.

last call
the pitch black night
he staggers into

winter solstice
the holiday lights
in a skid row bar

two bits
the homeless man tips
an imaginary hat

two bits
the homeless man tips
an imaginary hat

………… by Ed Markowski

after the storm
he is rich in umbrellas–
the homeless man

… by Barry George – WHA; Point Judith Light (Fall 1998)

moving day–
warm rain
on cardboard

.. by Alice Frampton – New Resonance 3 & The Heron’s Nest (2002)

now with homeless eyes
I see it…
blossoming spring

in autumn wind
a homeless crow
is blown

…………. by Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue


bus station hobo—
four plastic seats
and a tabloid pillow

on each dawn-frosted bench—
a full sleeping bag

a young cop rousts
the trestle couple—
cooing pigeons

in my pupils—
the mattress
in the storefront window

snores from the dumpster
at Executive Suites

dreaming of Dickens
on an empty belly—
one more vagabond

– “The Unmade Bed,” a rengay by David Giacalone (#1) & CarrieAnn Thunell (#2), in Lynx XXII:3 (October 2007)

after the quake
a hobo
directing traffic

… by Michael Dylan Welch – from Open Window

homeless at Trailways
no ticket
or bed

… by dagosan

happy hour
the bartender cashes
my disability check

skid row
on every bar napkin
a light hearted joke

christmas eve
homeless men crouch
at the back of the manger

………… by Ed Markowski

– self-portrait by Wilford “Frenchie” Hamilton (May 2008); via Oakland Press

1 Comment

  1. how terrible that is. for those persons to beat up someone who did nothing to provoke such an attack, and who was helpless to defend himself. there is something truly very wrong here. the inhumanity of it.

    Comment by kouji — September 8, 2008 @ 9:08 pm

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