African-American AIDS Group Director Arrested After Staging Protest at St. Louis City Hall
Erise Williams, the director of St. Louis, Mo.-based Blacks Assisting Blacks Against AIDS, was arrested yesterday at St. Louis City Hall after trying to chain himself to the door of the mayor's office in protest of reduced city AIDS funding to his group, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Williams chanted "AIDS is killing blacks" through a bullhorn and argued that Blacks Assisting Blacks "is not getting its fair share of the AIDS treatment and prevention financial pie" distributed by the city. In 2000, the group received $40,000 for HIV prevention and $180,000 for HIV treatment from the city's administration, but this year, the city awarded the organization $11,000 for prevention and no money for treatment, Williams said. He contended that Blacks Assisting Blacks is better able to serve African Americans because "[t]he message is best received by people when it comes from someone who looks like them. Other groups don't have the same cultural competency." The organization claims it is the "victim of politics and racism," but city health officials said that the distribution process was fair and that other groups received the money because their proposals showed that they could more effectively use the funding. Hilda Adams, acting director of the St. Louis health department, said that Blacks Assisting Blacks had some accounting problems with her department funds, but added that the group had received praise for its accounting from federal agencies. Adams said that other area groups also serve large numbers of African Americans and other minorities. Blacks Assisting Blacks is a "strong community-based organization doing great work in outreach to the African-American community. And we're helping them find other sources of funding," she said. The HIV infection rate for African Americans in St. Louis is nearly four times the infection rate for whites, state health statistics show. Williams was charged with disturbing the peace and released on $100 bond (Jonsson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 3/23). This was the second protest Blacks Assisting Blacks has staged. On Feb. 6, Williams led a demonstration outside of the St. Louis Department of Health headquarters to protest funding cuts ( Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/8).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.