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Notorious H.I.V.

The Media Spectacle of Nushawn Williams

2004
Author:

Thomas Shevory

Notorious H.I.V.

The real story behind the Nushawn Williams case: media distortions, judicial contortions, ruined lives

In 1997, public authorities were granted an exception to New York’s HIV confidentiality law—and released Nushawn Williams’s name and picture to the press. Williams, who is HIV-positive, had unprotected sex with young women and infected at least nine of them. Thomas Shevory sorts through the ensuing media panic and legal imbroglio to tell the story behind the Nushawn Williams case.

An extremely timely and accessibly written study of the criminalization of HIV.

Cindy Patton, author of Globalizing AIDS

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 unprotected sex with many 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.

Notorious H.I.V.

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.

Notorious H.I.V.

An extremely timely and accessibly written study of the criminalization of HIV.

Cindy Patton, author of Globalizing AIDS

An excellent study of the mass media, popular culture, and crime.

Jeffrey Ian Ross, University of Baltimore

Like the best traditional ethnography, the early chapters of Shevory’s work reads like a compelling novel; the legal analysis of the final chapters successfully demonstrates the author’s core argument that the media frenzy around the case dehumanized Williams in a manner which compromised core elements of the criminal justice and penal system.

Lambda Book Report

Notorious H.I.V.

Contents

Preface

Introduction

1. Moral Panics and Media Politics
2. Small- Town Mythologies and the History of a Place
3. Of Myths and Monsters
4. State Power, Law, and the Sequestration of Disease
5. HIV Culpability and the Politics of Crime

Conclusion

Notes

Index

Notorious H.I.V.

UMP blog - Still Notorious: The Nushawn Williams Case

5/18/2010
Six years ago, I published Notorious H.I.V. with University of Minnesota Press about the case of so-called “AIDS monster” Nushawn Williams. In the process of writing it, I interviewed Nushawn many times, and our relationship extended beyond simply that of researcher and subject. I have kept in touch with him over the years to the point of serving as best man at both of his weddings. (He is divorced from his first wife.)