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PAINFUL TRUTH: The dangers of dehumanization

We turn the vulnerable into targets
Langley RCMP were at the scene of a shooting Monday, July 25, 2022, in a parking lot on Logan Avenue near the bus loop. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

We can’t say for sure that the victims of Monday’s shooting spree were targeted because they were homeless. We can’t even say for sure that all of them were homeless.

But local homeless advocates quickly identified two of the victims as homeless. Local RCMP agreed that the victims were homeless. Two shooting scenes were in areas frequented by the homeless, and another was at Creek Stone Place, a supportive housing complex for people getting off the streets.

If the shooter wasn’t targeting the homeless, then he was simply going after people who were vulnerable and exposed in the early morning hours. Which means the homeless were the easiest possible targets.

It was in the frantic hours after the shooting that friends started to message me – had I heard about what Joe Rogan said?

I had not. I don’t have much respect for Rogan as it is, and I generally manage to ignore his low-level controversies.

But it turns out that back on July 14, he and comedian Tom Segura were talking, with some disgust, about the homelessness situation in Los Angeles, marvelling that it was illegal to simply steal from the homeless! You could get arrested if you took their stuff!

“Maybe you should just go shoot the homeless people,” Rogan said.

This is technically a joke, but only technically.

I’m not trying to draw any kind of direct line between Rogan’s words and the shootings in Langley.

We may never know exactly what motivated these shootings. Perhaps, unlikely as it seems, there was some personal connection between the killer and all four of his victims.

But what we know is that homelessness makes people vulnerable.

It makes them vulnerable to the elements, to heat and cold. It makes them vulnerable to untreated health issues, both mental and physical. It makes them vulnerable to despair, and the deaths that follow despair – toxic drug deaths and self-harm.

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And it makes them vulnerable to predators, either those who despise the homeless, or those who are simply looking for someone to hurt.

There have been two incidents in B.C. since 2020 in which someone set a sleeping homeless person on fire – one in Vancouver and one in Campbell River. [Note: since this column was printed, a third such incident took place in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.)

The casually monstrous tone of Rogan’s joke is notable only because of his fame.

There are worse things said every day in comment threads and on social media.

People find the homeless off-putting. It’s easier to pretend they aren’t people at all.

This kind of talk, the steady drip-drip-drip of snide comments, and so-called jokes and hatred slowly strips people of personhood. We pretend they don’t have rights (What do you mean you’d get arrested if you took their stuff?) and eventually, we start wishing we could just get rid of them altogether.

Homelessness makes people vulnerable to dehumanization.

The answer is to treat the homeless like humans, and to acknowledge that all humans have a right to housing.

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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