Charging that Los Angeles County officials have been negligent and discriminatory in their AIDS education efforts, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of minority groups Wednesday in an attempt to force the county to spend millions of dollars to develop more programs in black and Latino communities.
"The only vaccine for AIDS is public education," ACLU attorney Mark Rosenbaum said at a press conference called to announce the suit. "The county has refused to administer that vaccine."
"It's gross negligence (on the part of the county); it's rampant racism," said the Rev. Carl Bean, founder of the Minority AIDS project in Los Angeles and one of a number of minority groups acting as plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "It amounts to non-care for people of color."
The other plaintiffs include the Los Angeles branch of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, individuals representing other black and Latino organizations and black AIDS patient Greg Baker, 26.
County officials responded by saying that 40% of their AIDS education budget is aimed at minority communities.
However, the plaintiffs allege that AIDS is spreading most rapidly in black and Latino communities and that the information currently being disseminated is not effectively seeping into minority communities because of cultural and language problems.
The AIDS virus attacks the body's immune system, leaving the victim vulnerable to a variety of infections and tumors. It is transmitted by sexual contact, by contaminated needles and blood and from an infected mother to her newborn baby. Those at most risk from the disease are male homosexuals and intravenous drug users.
Third of the Cases
According to county officials, almost 30% of the AIDS cases recorded in Los Angeles County involve blacks and Latinos, who account for an estimated 42% of the population. Of those cases involving homosexuals, almost three out of four are white males, said Robert M. Saltzman, administrator of the county AIDS program. But of AIDS patients who are intravenous drug users, 67% are black or Latino, he said. More than 55% of the cases resulting from heterosexual contact involve black or Latino patients.
Among the 16 children reported to be suffering from AIDS in Los Angeles, 12 are black or Latino and most of those contracted the disease from a parent, he said.
Saltzman said the county currently spends about $1 million a year to spread information in an effort to stem the disease. About $400,000 of that is earmarked for minority programs.