Created: 07/23/2014 9:40 PM
By: Caleb James, KOB Eyewitness News 4
Were the deadly beatings of two homeless men in Albuquerque a hate crime?
Under federal law, the answer is no. That's true for most states, too.
But one state senator thinks New Mexico should step up and be a leader.
It's state Sen. Bill O'Neill's personal story that makes what happened over the weekend so powerful for him.
Whatever the motive for this weekend's murder, O'Neill says a crime committed against the homeless, simply because they are homeless, should be a hate crime.
"When you're homeless and vulnerable you're just like a target out here you know?" said Sammy Baca, a friend of the two men killed in an Albuquerque vacant lot over the weekend.
Baca used to visit the lot often to see his friends Kee Thompson and Al Gorman. He said they called it their "safe place."
"They had relatives, and they had friends," Baca said.
This time, he's here with a prayer for the two homeless men savagely beaten to death.
"Just start beating them up, that's a hate crime," he said.
In New Mexico, crimes targeting the homeless are not considered hate crimes.
"We as a state can make a real strong declaration that our homeless people are not to be targeted," O'Neill said.
O'Neill says they should be -- and it comes from a personal place.
He used to volunteer at St. Martin's Hospitality Center. That's where he made a dear friend.
"This is Frank Ellis," he said, holding a picture of a man he knew decades ago. "Man, he would come into the shelter just all bruised and battered."
"He was my friend," he said.
Last year, O'Neill's homeless hate crime legislation passed two bipartisan committees unanimously, but it never made the floor for a vote.
This year, with Frank and the murders of Thompson and Gorman in mind, he plans to introduce it again.
"It's acknowledging that homeless individuals are targeted in the same way others are targeted and that's not acceptable," said O'Neill.
"We who are healthy and sturdy in our lives, we need to help these folks," he said. "This is kind of my way of doing that."
If O'Neill's legislation is passed next session it would mean mandatory, stricter punishments for people who commit crimes against homeless people because they are homeless.