In April of 2011, Antonio Davis and 11 other AIDS activists were prosecuted and arrested during a peaceful protest against republican cuts to AIDS funding and ban on syringe exchange funding outside the ceremonial office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the District of Columbia. Mayor Vince Gray, members of the D.C. Council and more than 30 residents were also protesting and got arrested. However, while Mayor Gray and Council Chairman Brown were released after paying a $50 fine, the 11 HIV/AIDS activists were and still are prosecuted by the US Attorney’s office, under the threat of spending 6 months in jail and having a criminal record. The activists complained about the harsh and discriminatory behaviour and the unfair prosecution of the authorities.
What is striking in this story, is the case of Antonio Davis, an HIV positive activist from Philadelphia, who took part in the demonstration against the HIV/AIDS budget cuts. Davis was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2002 and suffers currently from an additional painful joint disease. Davis was taking marijuana for medical reasons, in order to counteract the side effects caused by 9 different AIDS medications and to boost his appetite to eat. Despite the fact that marijuana was prescribed by his doctor and that he presented the letters to confirm the medical prescription, he was not exempted from the drug test following his arrest, and, worst of all, after failing it, was forced to go to trial.
Although a judge had assured Davis that he would avoid being referred to trial, due to his medical proof and had convinced him that all his charges would be dropped, things did not turn out this way. On the contrary, after failing the drug tests, David was under the threat of imprisonment and a criminal record. Davis would still have a chance of avoiding the trial, if he tested positive in the following drug tests. And to do that, he decided to stop taking marihuana, his appetite stimulant, which made him lose 20lbs in the last two months.
Despite his efforts to avoid this unreasonable prosecution, including trials and jailing, his case, in a very strange way, is currently set to go to trial in May. The Director of Advocacy at the Health GAP, Matt Kavanaugh, who was furious over the matter, said: ‘Requiring repeated drug tests, repeated unpaid community services, and a half dozen court appearances, is completely unreasonable on a charge for which city council members pay a fine and walk away from’.
This cruel and completely unreasonable treatment of an HIV positive man who fights for his rights, without causing any harm to anyone, is totally paranoid and unacceptable. Davis’s story is almost unbelievable, taken that this man suffers from two diseases, did not cause any harm, did not kill, did not steal, did not commit any crime, but was simply exercising his right to protest and free speech! On what basis and under which law was this man arrested? Why? He was not even taking marijuana for his pleasure, and even if he did, should not be subjected to prosecution! The US authorities treated Davis so cruelly, so inhumanely, so irrationally, as if he committed a crime. And I am asking: since when has the right to protest peacefully become a reason for punishment? Since when fighting against injustice –obviously, cutting to HIV/AIDS funding can be a serious cause of injustice- is a crime, even a misdeamenor? And even worse, since when does a civilized state do not know how to stand by the side of people who are in need of help and support? Where did compassion and justice go? In this irrational and distorted world we live in, as it seems, the right to free speech and vindication of rights is a crime.
I really hope that all the advocacy organisations in the US will campaign against this trial, going to take place in May. The whole world of activists in Washington DC should go out in the streets and protest for the totally unfair and inhumane prosecution of Davis and try their best to impede this trial from happening by exercising pressure to the government. Or will this protest, a sign of humanity, a sense of justice and democracy will also be considered, as with the case of Davis, as a minor-or major-crime? ..or a misdeamenor?
This article was published on talkingdrugs.org: http://www.talkingdrugs.org/the-unfair-prosecution-of-hivaids-activist-antonio-davis