Oakland City Council Members Volunteer Help, Offer Support to Needle Exchange Program
Four members of the Oakland, California city council joined AIDS activists to distribute clean needles to IV drug users to show their support for needle exchange programs (Joel Maybury, "Council Members Become Outlaws to Needle Police," Oakland Tribune, Jan. 22, 1995, p. A1; Craig Stants, "Council Members Risk Jail to Arrest Spread of AIDS," Oakland Tribune, Jan. 18, 1995, p. A11).
Nate Miley, John Russo, Sheila Jordan, and Henry Chang are members of the Council's public safety committee. The City Council had passed a resolution supporting needle exchange and asking police to stop arresting volunteers, but the arrests have continued. Currently six volunteers are awaiting trial for exchanging needles, an offense that could carry a six-month sentence and a $1,000 fine. Among the defendants is National Drug Strategy Network member Amy Shutkin.
"We're here in support of the Alameda County Exchange. People have been distributing needles, educational materials, and providing counseling," Miley said. "If the police department chooses to enforce the law, they'll have to arrest us."
The council members also asked that Gov. Pete Wilson sign legislation that approves pilot needle exchange programs. The bills have passed the California Legislature twice, but Wilson has vetoed them, saying that needle exchange promotes drug use (see NewsBriefs, Sept./Oct. 1994, p. 5).