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Preventing HIV Transmission: The Role of Sterile Needles and Bleach
Drugs are not in our community by coincidence, but by [design]. Just like you can find a liquor store on every corner [in the inner city], you can find a dope house on every street and it's not there by coincidence, it is there by [design].
Similarly, news from sources such as 60 Minutes (cited in Thomas and Quinn, 1994) and The New York Times (Weiner, 1993) is presented as evidence that illegal drugs are not in the community by coincidence. The New York Times reported that the Central Intelligence Agency's antidrug program in Venezuela used public monies to ship a ton of cocaine to the United States and allowed it to be sold on the streets. No criminal charges were brought in the case, and the government officials responsible declared the matter a "most regrettable incident." Many African Americans and Latinos declared it to be "genocide" (Weiner, 1993).
Church leaders and elected officials have been the primary sources of expressed opposition by the African American community to needle exchange and bleach distribution programs. The church is a central and important influence in the African American community, and its moral teachings generally forbid the kind of sexual and drug-use behaviors that are associated with the transmission of HIV and AIDS. Much of the initial opposition of the African American clergy to the idea of needle exchange and bleach distribution programs focused on the immorality of the underlying risk behaviors. Certain high-profile and prominent clergy in the African American community have joined forces with politicians, business executives, and health care providers who have determined that these interventions represent a grave risk to the community.
Influenced by the historical legacy described above, these opponents have described the idea of making sterile needles available to drug users as misguided and dangerous. Politicians and public health officials are accused of irresponsibility in their failure to concentrate exclusively on increasing funding and programs for comprehensive drug treatment. Needle exchange programs and bleach distribution are viewed, at best, as makeshift responses and, at worst, as the deliberate continuation and support of drug dependence within the African American community.
Reverend Graylan Ellis-Hagler has said, for example (Kirp and Bayer, 1993:39):
First they (the white establishment) push drugs into the community. They cripple the community politically and economically with drugs. They send the males to jail. THEN someone hands out needles to maintain the dependency.
These sentiments have been echoed by several African American leaders, including member of Congress Charles Rangel (D-New York) and activist minister Dr. Calvin O. Butts. It is significant that Ellis-Hagler's position