Homeless People Being Paid To Fight Each Other On Tape

By Maureen Kyle

(LOUISVILLE, June 23rd, 2004, 6:30 p.m.) -- A disturbing trend in film making depicts violent acts against homeless people. Now homeless advocates are trying to get these movies pulled off store shelves, saying the images de-humanize homeless people. The movie "Bumfights" has already had an impact in Louisville. WAVE 3's Maureen Kyle reports.

Hand-held cameras catch the violent street fights but the punches and kicks aren't circumstantial. They've been intentionally staged. The homeless men and women are being paid with food or money to fight each other, all for the entertainment of others.

Movies like "Bumfights" have now gotten the attention of the National Coalition for the Homeless. The group is calling for retailers to stop selling and renting the videos which exploit the less fortunate for a profit. The Rev. Tim Moseley with Wayside Christian Mission on Market Street has also contacted a few video stores, asking them to pull the movies off of their shelves.

"Unfortunately here, we have violence and de-humanization of these people who are already victims of their circumstance," Moseley said. "And to victimize them again is just disgusting."

Homeless advocates are concerned that people who watch these videos may try and imitate them. Mary Morgan, who sometimes stays at Wayside, says she's already heard of Louisville gangs re-enacting some of the actions in the movie "Bum Hunts."

"They ride around on bikes and cars. They spot a homeless person. They get out and beat him up. And as we all know, there have been some circumstances where this has been taped."

Most national retailers have already yanked the films off their sales list but owners of some independent stores like Wild and Wooley Video on Bardstown say they won't cave in to the group's demands.

If there's a legal problem with it, we will take it off the shelves," says owner Rod Whitenack. "But we have to remain true to free speech, which is what this store is all about."

Wild and Wooley Video prides itself on carrying the movies the big chains won't, even those they don't agree with.

"I don't support it, I think that it does exploit the mentally handicapped and I don't enjoy when people ask me for it," Whitenack said. "But that doesn't mean that I should not carry it."

We spoke with managers at Best Buy on Shelbyville Road, and they tell us the store has stopped selling the videos. But the movies are still available at Tower Records.

Many people may remember Clifton Agnew, a homeless man who died as the result of a savage beating. The Commonwealth Attorney's office says there is no clear connection between Agnew's assault and the imitation of these videos.

But the people we spoke with at the Wayside mission say the attacks on homeless people are numerous, and the popularity of these movies will only escalate the problem.

Online Reporter: Maureen Kyle

Online Producer: Michael Dever