In May, an HIV-positive man who spit in the mouth and eye of a police officer was sentenced to 35 years in prison for harassing a public servant with what was deemed a deadly weapon: his saliva. Because of his previous record, Willie Campbell, 42, of Dallas, was indicted under a habitual-offender statute mandating a minimum sentence of 25 years. Because of the deadly-weapon finding, he will not be eligible for parole until he has served half his sentence.

Campbell has been convicted of attacking two other officers in a similar manner. (None of the three officers contracted HIV.) But regardless of Campbell’s criminal record and any intent to inflict harm, basing his punishment on HIV transmission myths sentences all of society to stigma and hysteria. HIV-positive people are further marginalized, while HIV-negative people are taught, by our legal system, to fear them.

In the media frenzy surrounding the incident, few vehicles clarified the HIV transmission risk associated with saliva. The New York Times did report, however, “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV is primarily spread through sexual contact or the exchange of blood. Although there have been rare cases of transmission through severe bites, ‘contact with saliva, tears or sweat has never been shown to result in transmission of HIV,’ the agency reports.”

Bebe Anderson, the HIV project director of Lambda Legal, which advocates on behalf of those living with HIV, added, “There’s still an incredible amount of ignorance about HIV and how HIV is or isn’t transmitted. It’s regrettable.”

POZ has an idea.

All of us living with HIV should write letters to both the Texas judge who presided over the case and Jenni Morse, who served as the lead prosecutor in the district attorney’s office, and protest the perpetuation of such ignorant and stigmatizing legal discrimination against people living with HIV.

And when sealing your envelope and affixing your stamp, be sure to use your (harmless) HIV-positive spit.

Send your letters to:

Hon. Larry Mitchell, Presiding
292nd Criminal District Court
Frank Crowley Courts Bldg.
133 N. Industrial Blvd., 6th Fl.
Dallas, TX 75207

Office of the District Attorney for Dallas County
Attention: Jenni Morse
Frank Crowley Courts Building
133 N. Industrial Blvd., LB 19
Dallas, TX 75207-4399