On Saturday night, Jan. 17, a particularly heinous and despicable crime on a beach in Ventura garnered national attention. A 58-year-old homeless man had been asleep in a sleeping bag on the beach side of a retaining wall at the end of Seaward Avenue when three young men, said to be in their late teens/early 20s, squirted lighter fluid on the man and set him on fire. The flames were five to six feet high when a passerby called the police. The attackers remain at large while the homeless man, John Frazier, remains in stable condition at USC Medical Center’s burn unit in Los Angeles, though by deadline, he remained unable to speak to investigators.
Every single person with any sense of humanity, sympathy, empathy, knows this is beyond comprehension, that these men who did this to this man are nothing more than individuals who prey on the weak because they themselves are weak. There is no glory, no pride, nothing but disgust for those who did this. It is rumored that this was a part of some gang initiation. But it’s really nothing more than a pathetic display of predatory behavior. In fact, the only thing we should feel for these individuals, if we can ever get over our anger, is pity, that somehow someway they concluded this was something acceptable to do to their fellow human and how sad it must be to live in such a demented state. There is, however, no reasonable punishment for these sick individuals other than being locked up in prison for a very long time. We look forward to one of them looking deep within and seeing how wrong this is and coming forward. Surely, not all of them lack a conscience. Though this act was so heinous, so bewildering to the average person, we as a community and as a society should take some responsibility. After all, we have cultivated an atmosphere, an attitude, that the homeless are less than, that they are subhuman.
In 2014, the VCReporter did a three-part series on homelessness, on the changing attitude toward finding a solution to homelessness as well as giving the homeless a voice, in essence, humanizing humans who live without shelter. It seems odd at best that we should have to do such a thing, humanize humans. In the second part of the series, “Facing homelessness in Ventura County,” we delved into the lives of those who had been without homes for a period of time, some for months, others for years, and one who had recently found a home. We talked about their lives, their pasts, their passions. They were really no different than anyone else, though we tend to accuse them of all being addicts, criminals, etc., when it is really a combination of extenuating and complicated circumstances that leads to long-term homelessness.
When it comes to John Frazier, however, his life is somewhat of a mystery. Local social workers and case managers did not have him in their systems. Those in the same predicament — without homes — who hung out in the same area of Pierpont as he did, claim they know nothing about him other than the fact he had only been around for a few months. According to Ventura police records, officers had been in contact with him over vagrant issues in the last year, but also had contact with him 11 years ago. He apparently lived elsewhere for that time. While his life story remains elusive, this man is still a man, a human, a person who apparently was just trying to mind his own business when this horrific crime occurred. The reality is, this offense falls on our shoulders. Until we change our attitude, considering those who live without homes as nothing more than just public nuisances, these sorts of horrendous acts will continue on. And we should, without a doubt, accept our role in these situations. The Rev. Jan Christian of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura hit the nail on the head:
“This horrific act seems to be the result of an idea that is dangerous however it manifests itself and that is the idea that some lives don’t matter. This idea is pervasive in our world and in our city and, although such extreme acts are rare, people are dying as a result of homelessness on a fairly regular basis. I hope this will serve to galvanize our city and that we will take this opportunity to come together in a new way to find the solutions that are working in so many other jurisdictions. And I hope that we can begin to understand that we all matter and that we all count on kindness for our survival.”
While we can’t change all the lives of those who live without homes, we can at the very least change the way we see and treat them.