On November 23rd, 67-year-old Tai Lam — who was homeless — was sleeping in an alley near Crocker Galleria in San Francisco when surveillance video shows an unknown suspect running up to him and kicking him repeatedly while he lies in his sleeping bag on the ground.
That video was released today by SFPD (after the jump), who are seeking the public’s help in identifying the unknown assailant, and two other attackers who returned moments later to resume the fatal beating.
Police also released a screen capture from another surveillance camera, which shows the suspect, along with the two other men, smoking a cigarette near the scene of the crime. Police say they have additional video footage showing the three men returning to Tai Lam after the initial beating, but have not released that film due to its graphic nature.
“The attack was one of the worst I’ve ever seen,” SFPD Sergeant John Cagney said.
Police say Tai Lam — who was disabled from polio — initially survived the two back-to-back attacks that so badly disfigured his face as to render it almost unrecognizable, but died soon afterwards on the streets after aspirating blood.
“I’ve been a cop for 25 years, 10 in homicide,” Inspector John Cagney said. “This was terrible. They were stomping on him. They were drop kicking the guy. And he absolutely did not do anything. He’s 100 pounds — a little, tiny, disabled (polio) Asian guy.”
Police believe the attack was a thrill killing, and that Tai Lam was targeted for no other reason than because he was homeless; officials cite the fact that Lam’s killers didn’t even bother to rob him of the $1000 he had on his person at the time of his death.
Lam’s family spoke to police, telling officials that Lam was a kind, conscientious person who declined their offers to have him stay with them, preferring instead to stay in the alley by Crocker Galleria where he took steps to minimize his impact.
Police believe the three suspects may have been in the Financial District to attend an earlier flash-mob style event called “Flask Mob”, described on its Facebook page as “a monthly meeting of Bay Area creatives who gather with flasks and cameras to mob the streets of San Francisco.” The three men may also have briefly spoken to a security guard earlier in the night. After the killing, SFPD believe that the men have taken the BART or Muni from the nearby Montgomery Street station.
Homeless people are a particularly vulnerable population to various crimes, from theft to murder. In particular, the number of attacks targeting homeless men and women have been rising steadily since 1999. The National Coalition for the Homeless, which generates annual reports on this topic and which is lobbying for these kinds of unprovoked attacks to be labelled as a hate crime, reports that since 1999, 1537 homeless people have been physically assaulted; 375 of those people were killed. In 2013 alone, 18 homeless individuals died after being attacked.
The NCH also suggests that these numbers are an underestimate, since many attacks are likely to go unreported.
As with many other social issues, homelessness in America represents an intersection of racism and classism; homelessness disproportionately impacts communities of colour and other marginalized communities, such as LGBTQ men and women. Last year, San Francisco reported that 29% of the city’s homeless self-identified as White, 26% as Hispanic of Latino, and 24% as Black — this represents a significant overrepresentation of Latinos and Blacks who are 13% and 6% of the city’s total population. 5% of San Francisco’s homeless population self-identified as AAPI (compared to 34% of the city’s total population), however this nonetheless reminds of the stark wealth gap within the AAPI population in that city. Additionally, there are limited resources for the homeless and/or those living in poverty in San Francisco, and even fewer that specifically target the AAPI community with culturally-specific and in-language services.
Thus, the homeless population in this country has for many years been treated with popular disdain rather than with widespread support. We prefer to ignore the homeless (when we are not blaming them for their homelessness) and to treat them as if they are invisible, both politically and when we physically pass them in the street. In so doing, we erase their humanity. We are unswayed by stories of people who prey — economically, physically, and sexually — on this at-risk population. Some go further, and kill homeless individuals — like Tai Lam — for sport.
Any member of the public who has any knowledge of this attack is encouraged to contact SFPD with their information, by phone at (415) 575-4444 or to text a tip to TIP411, with the message beginning with the word “SFPD”.