National media are paying attention, and editorial boards around the state are beginning to take potshots at Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed's use of prosecutorial discretion to charge three Christian needle exchange activists with Class A misdemeanors instead of the Class C offense the officer originally alleged. In an editorial (Jan. 24) titled "Jailed for Ministry," the Lufkin Daily News pronounced:
It's never good news for a District Attorney when the media begins to identify the people you're prosecuting as "heroes" and the DA as the villain: Ask Terry McEachern or Mike Nifong. Similarly, the Houston Chronicle called Reed's decision to increase charges an "abusive use of her prosecutorial office," and editorialized over the weekend ("Needled to death," Jan. 27) that:
What a ridiculous misuse of the law.
Intent is all-important in the law. If [73-year old volunteer Bill] Day and his organization were intending to make money from the sale of needles, or were intentionally promoting drug use in any way, we would be the first to call for their prosecution.
But Day is working both to ease suffering and to promote the general public health. For that, he and his group are not being prosecuted, they are being persecuted.
This points out that Texas needs to have some provision that allows needle exchange programs — at the very least as a pilot project and with responsible groups such as the Bexar Area Harm Reduction Coalition.
Bill Day is no criminal, he is closer to being a hero who is following his faith and taking care of people when no one else wants to bother with them.
The incident makes a a mockery of clear thinking in this state when it comes to containing infectious disease among intravenous drug users, the people who love them and even their babies: Texas is the one state in the union in which it is illegal to run a needle exchange program of any kind, even though such programs have been shown to reduce the spread of HIV infection and hepatitis.In 2007, the Texas Senate approved a bill that would have allowed local governments to operate needle exchange programs everywhere in the state, but in the House that authorization was whittled back to Bexar County only. With key opponents departing the Legislature and the Governor's office, I anticipate such legislation could receive an even more positive reception in 2009.
The Bexar DA is swimming against the tide of history on this issue, not to mention defying common sense and many in her own party. Her threat to prosecute county health workers who participate in a needle exchange pilot is more over the top, even, than the "mockery of clear thinking" in Bill Day's case. It's likely Day's ministry wouldn't have been out exchanging needles in the first place if Reed hadn't blocked the county program.
Reed's use of her law enforcement powers to promote her political positions discredits not just her but the system. One hopes the Attorney General will rule soon that the DA can't drag people into court for implementing a legislatively authorized pilot, then Day and Co. won't need to break the law in order to prevent disease among San Antonio's addicts.