May 10, 2010
It is undeniable that in recent years there has been a steady militarization of our law enforcement and justice system. One could cite the increased use of the taser by police officers as a means of getting compliance, or the reckless use of SWAT teams and paramilitary raids to carry out search warrants. Legally this militarization is exemplified by the application anti-terrorist laws against private citizens for what would normally be civil infractions.
Take this recent example from Michigan. Daniel Allen, a 44 year old resident of Clinton Township, was involved in an altercation with his neighbor last October, allegedly over a football that landed in his yard. Words were exchanged, the situation became heated and Allen got into a fight with the neighbor. In the course of the fight, Allen bit the man in the finger and in the lip. Allen was originally charged with two counts of assault, but a third charge of bioterrorism was applied this week after it became known that Allen was HIV positive (and knew he was HIV positive at the time of the fight). Allen’s attorneys, supported by civil rights organizations, are calling the charges absurd and say that Michigan’s bioterrorism law was never meant to apply to altercations between individuals.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
Michigan’s 1998 bioterrorism law was passed to combat terrorism after the Oklahoma City bombing and a Michigan anthrax scare. The bill’s author, Democrat Gary Peters (now a U.S. Congressman) says that the law was originally crafted to deal with large-scale terrorist attacks and not persons with HIV-AIDS. HIV positive persons who knowingly attempt to transmit blood or fluid to others have previously been charged in Michigan (as in a 2007 case in which an infected man spit blood at police), but Allen’s case is the first time a charge of bioterrorism has been applied. If convicted of bioterrorism, Allen could face fifteen years in prison.
What can we take away from this? Regardless about how one feels about persons with HIV potentially spreading it to others on purpose (or about the machismo of a guy whose primary defense in a fight is to resort to biting), this case is important because it is a deliberate attempt to apply sloppily written, broad anti-terrorism measures against United States citizens in private conflicts that are more fittingly dealt with in civil court, or better yet, with an apology and a handshake. If Senator Lieberman’s citizenship-stripping bill ever passes and if the bioterrorism charges stick, Allen’s scrap with his neighbor could cost him serious prison time, his citizenship, get him labeled a terrorist, put him on the No Fly list and cause him to incur every other stigma that clings forever to those labeled a terrorist, all for a two-minute indiscretion.
Should we condone the actions of an HIV infected man biting his neighbor? Absolutely not; it is an especially despicable act if it was done on purpose with the intention of possibly spreading the virus. But to apply bioterrorism charges in this case is absurd and a flagrant abuse of the law, especially since any high school kid who has sat through health class knows that HIV is not spread through saliva. If terrorism charges can be invoked for something as simple as a man getting into a fight with his neighbor, where else can they be applied? What kind of precedent will it set? It gives us yet one more example of misapplication of anti-terror laws against U.S. citizens and a militarization of our justice system.