BY OLIVIA MARBLE ’21
President Trump shocked the nation when he suggested using the death penalty against drug dealers as part of his outlined plan to combat the growing opioid crisis in a summit last month. The death penalty is almost exclusively used for homicide in the United States, making his statement incredibly unprecedented. While Trump’s plan to deal with this national emergency does include plans for treatment, they are vague, which is problematic because treatment accessibility is key in preventing more overdoses.
The summit was called to order so that senators could measure their ongoing process in combating the country’s drug problem. Trump’s statements about the use of the death penalty came towards the end of the meeting. According to The Washington Post, Trump said, “If you shoot one person, you get life in prison. These people [drug dealers] kill 1,000, 2,000 people, and nothing happens to them.”
Trump later repeated this proposition during a speech about the opioid crisis at Manchester Community College in New Hampshire. Trump referred to his conversation with President Xi Jinping of China and President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, both of whom told him that the death penalty has been a successful deterrent for drug dealing in their countries, according to The New York Times.
The death penalty is a controversial practice outside of the opioid crisis. It is currently allowed at the federal level, and is legal in 31 states, according to CNN. Some people argue that the death penalty is justified in cases where people have committed heinous crimes. But if someone is wrongfully convicted of a crime, the death penalty is obviously irreversible. According to Time Magazine, an estimated 4.1 percent of death row inmates are victims of wrongful conviction, and the percentage of those released from death row is half that much. Every person has the right to be proven innocent, and giving someone the death penalty takes that right away.
In his speech, Trump also cited the pushback against his plan to build a wall on the border between Mexico and the United States as a roadblock in combating the drug problem. According to The New York Times, he said that sanctuary cities were to blame for the increase in overdoses.
This is fear-mongering rhetoric that puts blame on other countries to avoid the fact that the United States’ problems come from within. This leads to prejudice and discrimination against those from other countries, specifically those from countries in which the majority of citizens are people of color. This is only one example of the long history of racism in the war on drugs.
The opioid crisis is caused both by drug dealers and users — there cannot be a supply without a demand, so there must be some focus on helping those who are addicted to opioids. The New York Times reported that Trump said he wants to expand access to “evidence-based addiction treatment,” but failed to provide any specifics about what this treatment is and how he would make it more accessible. Despite Trump’s words, his opposition to the Affordable Care Act — which does not classify addiction as a “pre-existing condition” — could leave many without access to addiction treatment.