We Shall Not Be Removed: Black Gay Men Respond to the Sentencing of Michael Johnson
May 15, 2015
Today at Michael Johnson's trial, the jury recommended a 30 year sentence. Yesterday, after just a few days of testimony and only two hours of deliberation, a nearly all-white jury convicted Michael Johnson on one count of recklessly infecting a partner with HIV, one count of attempting to recklessly infect a partner with HIV, and three counts of recklessly exposing partners to HIV. We are saddened and enraged by what seems to have been a lackluster defense of Johnson, but ultimately we are not surprised. There are many people in this country who still believe, out of ignorance or cruelty, that people with HIV are pariahs who we all need to be protected from. But Michael Johnson is a part of our community and he is not disposable. Far too many young Black gay men receive an HIV diagnosis in this country, and nearly one in three can expect to in their lifetimes. And Missouri's solution, to a problem they helped create, is prison.
Contracting HIV isn't Michael's fault. For decades, so few resources have gone toward a community based HIV prevention and treatment response for Black gay men. This has created a situation where contracting HIV feels almost inevitable. It is ironic that the state of Missouri would convict Michael Johnson of criminal transmission out of a claim of concern for "the public." If Missouri has such concern about the health and wellbeing of its residents, why won't the Missouri state legislature even expand Medicaid -- a very easy way to ensure nearly all people with and at risk for HIV could have access to health care? After the trial is over, it is very likely that the young men accusing Johnson will continue living in a state that will do very little to ensure they have access to HIV prevention services and basic access to health care. Johnson will be in prison, and the accusers who are currently HIV negative will likely remain highly vulnerable to HIV infection. That's the state's fault -- not Michael Johnson.
It is hard to ignore the racial optics of this case. A very muscular and attractive Black man stood accused by mostly white men, in a small county, and was tried in front of a nearly all-white jury. Whether in health care, or the courtroom, there is no justice for Black gay men in either location.
We want to reiterate that our support for Johnson will continue, whether or not he disclosed his status to the accusers, and despite whatever sentence he receives. We will continue to fight until he is released, and until all such laws are removed from Missouri and across the country. We will continue to work to support Michael through any appeals, and his time in prison, however long it may be.
But in the meantime, this is the agenda we will be actively pursuing:
We know that many people still remain incredibly frightened of an HIV diagnosis, which undergirds the logic behind many of these laws. We also know that this country has an all-too vivid imagination when it comes to ideas of out-of-control Black sexuality, and a commitment to prisons and punitive responses to challenges. This allows state actors to be absolved of responsibility for creating the conditions that lead many Black gay men to become HIV positive, or imprisoned, or both.
We will fight until Johnson is released, and until we are all free.
This article was provided by The Counter Narrative Project.
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