The Spokane Police Department is investigating a video that appears to show a group of young people stomping on and using a baseball bat to beat a sleeping homeless person at an abandoned Shopko in north Spokane.
Police were sent the video by KHQ earlier this week and have since assigned a major crimes detective to investigate, said Julie Humphreys, a department spokesperson.
Violence against homeless people in Spokane is common. In 2020, a homeless man was shot and killed as “practice” before the man arrested for his death, Nathan Beal, allegedly killed his ex-wife.
Another man was beaten to death at a homeless camp in Mead in July 2020. And more recently, Justin Combs, 34, was beaten to death outside of the Spokane Intermodal Center.
While the killings are the extreme end of the violence against homeless people, Dena Carr, director of the House of Charity, said violence against the homeless is common.
“One of the difficult things about this job is that we serve, by and large, people who are incredibly vulnerable, and they are preyed upon all the time,” Carr said. “It’s very much a constant part of people’s lives when they’re experiencing homelessness.”
The most recent video shows a group of people running up to a person sleeping under the eaves of the building. The people then begin kicking, stomping on and striking the person with a bat, according to footage shown on KHQ.
Investigators’ priority is finding the victim, Humphreys said, noting that the suspects in the video are known to police. She declined to be more specific.
It’s common for victims to not know who their attackers are. Because they’re ambushed, often in the dark, they can’t accurately describe what their attacker looked like, Carr said.
House of Charity is often criticized for the number of people hanging around outside their building, but Carr said that’s because it’s a safe place.
“I will say folks are hanging out in this area because they know we have video cameras and if something were to happen to them we would have access to camera footage in filing charges if something were to happen,” Carr said.
Homeless people are used to protecting themselves and don’t often feel safe sharing their fears with shelter providers, Carr said.
“I think we live in a community that has consistently vilified the homeless,” Carr said.
That “rhetoric of hate” empowers people to hurt the homeless, Carr said. She thinks their attackers sometimes feel “justified” because they don’t see people who are homeless as human beings.
The best way for community members to make a difference, Carr said, is to support shelter providers they feel are doing good work and to encourage elected officials to use compassionate and caring language when they talk about the homeless.
“These are very much members of our community,” Carr said, “just as you or I are.”