A Zimbabwean refugee was jailed for two months last week after pleading guilty to assaulting a police officer, drink-driving and driving with no licence or insurance. That in itself is nothing remarkable.
What is remarkable, however, is the hysteria surrounding his arrest and sentencing by the police and the media.
His real ‘crime’?
Being an ‘asylum seeker’ with ‘suspected’ HIV and/or hepatitis B. It seems that just being from Africa is enough to be ‘suspected’ of having HIV, and for the police and media to focus on the (negligable) risk of HIV transmission via a bite.
Every headline – and there were many in the UK last week – included the word ‘HIV’ even though the man denies being HIV-positive. At least, they didn’t subject him to a mandatory HIV test (as was proposed by police, but ultimately rejected, in Scotland a couple of years ago).
Although there have been several case reports of HIV transmission via a bite, these are reassuringly extremely rare and would require fresh blood in the saliva of the HIV-positive person as well as an extremely high viral load – usually seen during primary infection or extremely advanced HIV disease.
It seems to me that to many uninformed members of society being African (and gay) is the 21st equivalent of being a witch – damned either way.
This is what the police had to say about the incident.
Chief Inspector Jim McAll, of Northumbria Police’s Gateshead Area Command said: “For an assault of this nature, which has left two officers with an uncertain few months, a custodial sentence was totally appropriate.
“This sends out the right message to offenders that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated by the courts.
“Once again this has highlighted the dangers Northumbria officers, who are some of the best trained in the country, can face in their day-to-day working lives.”