What Black People Say about Mandatory HIV Testing of Inmates
By, Tony R. Wafford
As we approach almost thirty-years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, its time that the Black community stand-up and speak for itself. We appreciate all the support we've received over the years from the ACLU and countless other agencies, organizations and individuals that have come to the difference of and support of Black people. I applaud all the love and support that the Black community has received from well intended Non-Afro Americans.
The Black community is in a state of emergency, and it's time that we stand-up and speak our own special truth. I know that many social, civic, political and faith leaders have been lead to believe that they have been hearing from the Black community when many so-called experts in the field of HIV/AIDS have spoken. They have even heard from many who are infected with the disease speak on behalf of the Black community. I know that there are some in the HIV world that holds positions of power and influence that are either comfortable working with certain folks because they know they will continue to maintain the status-quo. I also know there are some in positions of power and influence in the HIV world that just don't know of those in the Black community that can really move the people. And there are some in positions of power and influence that just don't care about the Black community and the fact that HIV/AIDS is killing our people, and that's why we must stand-up and speak up for our community.
There are over 8.3 million people in the United States living under the jurisdiction (on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole) of the criminal justice system. 2.2 million People living in prisons and jails, and thousands of men and women returning every year to their communities not knowing their HIV status and its sad to say, most of them are Black men and women.
Did you know that if a person has been in lock-up in a juvenile facility, county jail or a prison setting for 72 hours (three days) or more, that person is ineligible to donate blood to the Red Cross or any other blood donor agency for (1) one year? Did you know that if a man has had sex with another man from 1977 to the present, they both are ineligible to donate blood to any agency that receives blood donations indefinitely (forever)?
Would you classify the Red Cross or any other agency that collects blood donations as being homophobic, violators of the civil rights of the post-incarcerated? Would you say that those agencies are further stigmatizing those who have been in custody as having engaged in same sex activities while being incarcerated?
Are these agencies saying that the 8.3 million people living under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system are homosexuals or intravenous drug users (IDU)? Why would these agencies declare any man who has had sex with other men (MSM) or is currently having sex with another man, ineligible to donate blood? Are these agencies stigmatizing the entire MSM community? Are these agencies making a declaration that all MSM's are having unprotected sex and maybe HIV positive or have AIDS?
What these agencies are doing is being responsible to the larger community. What these agencies are doing is coming to terms with the fact that we are dealing with a health crisis. What they are doing is what any responsible community would do; they are addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic for what it is, a health crisis!
What these agencies are doing is facing the facts that all those in local lock-up, juvenile facilities, country jails and prisons are living in very high risk environments for HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases and the Black community needs to take that same position regardless of what others, outside our community, have to say. We cannot allow those, who do not speak for or live in our community, to say differently.
African Americans account for over 4 million of those living under the jurisdiction (on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole) of the criminal justice system. Black men account for half of the 2.1 million people living in prisons and jails and thousands of Black men are returning to their community everyday not knowing their HIV status. Thousands of our brothers and sisters are returning to our communities daily, coming home to us, our families, not to the community of the well intended.
For the past twenty-eight (28) years, we have seen the Congressional Black Caucus call for a State of Emergency in Black America to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We have heard speeches, read articles, attended protest marches and rallies calling on local, county, state and federal governmental agencies to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic in African American communities. So, ask yourself... "What has been accomplished?"
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "vanity asks is it popular, politics ask is it expedient, cowardice ask is it safe, but conscience asks is it right". It's right to test all those going into and coming out of custody for HIV/AIDS. It's right not to allow anyone to return to their loved ones and community not knowing if they are a health risk to both themselves and their loved ones. And it's right to support, as well as supply all those in need of medical attention. I would encourage the Black community to do what's right; support mandatory HIV testing for all of those going into and coming out of incarceration. And to the well intended (and those you hire to do your bidding) that think you know what's best for Black people, stay to yourself if you can't support our struggle!