In the fall of 1997, public authorities in Chautauqua County, New York, were granted an exception to the state's HIV confidentiality law-and released Nushawn Williams's name and picture to the press, deeming him a "public health threat," the source of a "near epidemic" of HIV transmission. Williams, who is HIV-positive, had had unprotected sex with several young women and girls and infected at least nine of them.In Notorious H.I.V. Thomas Shevory sorts through the ensuing media panic and legal imbroglio to tell the story behind the Nushawn Williams case. Through media reports, legal documents, and interviews with many of the participants-including Williams, who eventually pled guilty to reckless endangerment and statutory rape charges and is currently serving time in a maximum security prison in New York-Shevory exposes the significant exaggerations, misunderstandings, and distortions that riddled the Williams case from the start. He contends that Williams's portrayal as an "AIDS monster" served political purposes; specifically, representations of Williams helped to foster the passage of HIV-transmission statutes, resulting in criminalizing a public health problem in a virtually unprecedented fashion.Notorious H.I.V. also traces the impact of such high-profile cases on communities. Shevory provides a nuanced portrait of the hard economic and cultural realities of Jamestown, New York, and, drawing on Williams's narratives, of the life of a lower-level drug dealer in a small upstate city. His work shows how media coverage robs individuals like Williams of their humanity, creating a pervasive atmosphere of threat that warps the integrity and fairness of the criminal justice and penal system.Thomas Shevory is professor of politics at Ithaca College. His previous books include John Marshall's Law: Interpretation, Ideology, and Interest and Body/Politics: Studies in Reproduction, Production, and Reconstruction.
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