Aly: When Hateful Rhetoric Engulfs a Tent in Flames

Courtesy of The Orange County Register

Victim's police sketch of attacker

The OC Register reports: A man and a woman live in a tent in Santa Ana. Early last Friday, they wake up to a voice telling them: leave or I’ll be back in 15 minutes with a Glock handgun. The man inside the tent sticks his head out to communicate, and he gets kicked swiftly in the head, twice. The attacker flees in his truck. The attacker returns five minutes later. He has a red gasoline container. He pours gasoline on the tent and sets it and the couple inside on fire. The attempted murder is unsuccessful. The attacker is taken into custody.

According to a police statement, “Detectives are looking into the possibility he was frustrated with homeless people sleeping in his neighborhood. While you can understand the frustration, the answer is not acts of violence like this.”

The unthinkable is sometimes predictable. David Livingstone Smith writes in Less than Human, “[Dehumanization] acts as a psychological lubricant, dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming our destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable.”

The attack did not begin last Friday. The attack began when County officials began dehumanizing the homeless community. It began last autumn on the John and Ken radio show. It began last summer at a Garden Grove town hall.

The public turns to local government for answers on dealing with the affordable housing and homelessness crisis, but officials shift the responsibility onto the people experiencing homelessness themselves. When officials use hate to deflect blame, the public turns to violence.

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Mohammed Aly is an attorney and founder of Orange County Poverty Alleviation Coalition.

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