Demand Michigan Prosecutor Drop HIV-as-Terrorism Charges
UPDATE: A judge in Michigan has thrown out the bioterrorism charge facing Daniel Allen, the HIV-positive man at the center of this Michigan case. The pressure that Change.org members put on this case, by pushing for the local District Attorney to drop the bioterrorism charges, did not go unnoticed, and was mentioned in court documents as one of the leading national outlets speaking out against efforts to criminalize HIV. Thank you to all who signed this petition. For more on this case, click here.
HIV-positive people are not terrorists. Yet one Prosecutor is trying to charge Daniel Allen, a gay HIV-positive Michigan resident, with bioterrorism solely because of his HIV status.
As has been widely reported by the Michigan Messenger, in 2009 Allen got into a dispute with his neighbor, Winfred Fernandis Jr, after he allegedly made disparaging comments about Allen's sexual orientation. The confrontation turned physical, at which point Allen allegedly bit Fernandis on the lip. Police arrested Allen for traditional assault charges after the fight, but when Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith found out that Allen was HIV-positive, from a local Fox News report no less, he added a new charge: possession of a harmful biological substance.
That's a charge that the Michigan legislature intended to direct toward terrorists bent on using biological weapons to attack Americans. But for Eric Smith, it's a charge he wants to use to send a message that HIV-positive people themselves are terrorists.
Smith's decision to prosecute Allen with bioterrorism charges is entirely ignorant of science. According to the Center for Disease Control, it is nearly impossible to transmit HIV through a human bite, and there's no evidence that asserts that HIV can be spread through saliva.
On top of that, Smith's decision sends a cold message that HIV-positive people are a danger to their community. It's the type of decision that fosters ignorance and paranoia about HIV, and could lead to serious discrimination toward HIV-positive residents of Michigan.
While biting someone should never be tolerated, charging someone with bioterrorism for doing so is a gross misuse of justice, and a sorry effort to criminalize those with HIV. Demand that Prosecutor Eric Smith drop this HIV-as-terrorism charge.
By charging Allen with "possession of a harmful biological substance" because of his HIV status, you will be opening the door for others to discriminate against HIV-positive Michigan residents. Moreover, your actions in this case don't reflect the sound science put forward by organizations including the Center for Disease Control, which has said that it is virtually impossible to transmit HIV via a human bite, and that there's no evidence suggesting that HIV can be spread through saliva.
While Allen's assault incident merits an investigation, as all assault allegations should, charging Daniel Allen with bioterrorism because of his HIV status is bad precedent. It criminalizes people with HIV, and could jeopardize public health. If HIV-positive people are now subject to being labeled as terrorists, that could have a dramatic impact on the number of people willing to get tested. And that could have drastic implications for Michigan's HIV rates.
Please, Mr. Smith, drop these bioterrorism charges against Daniel Allen. They are inconsistent with the intent of Michigan's laws, they could jeopardize public health, and they send the message that Macomb County is willing to criminalize people living with HIV.