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Preventing HIV Transmission: The Role of Sterile Needles and Bleach
was influenced by the leadership of recovering addicts in his congregation. Originally, he had been supportive of needle exchange programs. He has indicated that his switch to an opposing stance was in response to his recognition that issues of empowerment and local control were more important than "pushing forth some social policy that came out of some liberal think tank somewhere in America" (Ellis-Hagler, 1993).
The image of African American injection drug users reaching out for drug treatment only to receive clean needles from public health authorities provides additional support for the genocide theory (Thomas and Quinn, 1993). These sentiments have been eloquently expressed by Dalton (1989):
For us (African Americans) drug abuse is a curse far worse than you can imagine. Addicts prey on our neighborhoods, sell drugs to our children, steal our possessions, and rob us of hope. We despise them because they hurt us and because they ARE us. They are a constant reminder of how close we all are to the edge. And "they" are "us" literally as well as figuratively; they are our sons and daughters, our sisters and brothers. Can we possibly cast out the demons without casting out our own kin? (p. 217)
Why can't WE choose which of the many problems facing us to tackle first? Suppose we think that crack is more of a menace than AIDS. Are you willing to help us take on that one? Why do you want US to take all the risks? You say that making drug use safer (by giving away bleach or distributing clean needles) won't make it more attractive to our children or our neighbors' children? But what if you are wrong? What if as a result, we have even more addicts to contend with? Will you be around to help us then, especially if the link between addiction and AIDS has not been severed? … Instead of asking us to accept on faith that we won't be abandoned and possibly worse off once you move on to a new issue, why not demonstrate your commitment by empowering us to carry on the struggle whether you are there or not? (p. 219)
Although individual religious leaders express strongly held views, African American church organizations have to date not taken formal positions either in support of or in opposition to needle exchange programs (Malone, 1994). And several of the more vocal religious and political leaders in such places as New York, Boston, New Haven, and Chicago have been convinced to allow certain needle exchange programs to operate in their cities.
The views of religious leaders in the African American community have been complemented by the views of politicians. For example, in March 1993, Congressman Charles Rangel, in response to a report from the U.S. General Accounting Office (1993), commented (Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, U.S. House of Representatives News Release, March 26, 1993):
I cannot condone my government telling communities ravaged by the twin epidemics of drugs and AIDS that clean needles are the best we can do for