As part of the plan to fight the opioid epidemic, President Donald Trump issues a policy calling for the death penalty for drug dealers. According to Trump’s administration, those who deal drugs are responsible for propagating an epidemic that has ruined families and destroyed lives. Some support this theory, while others that this is the wrong approach. It seems apparent that when it comes to race, clear differences emerge. This reality has some questioning if blacks are the target of President Trump’s death penalty.
The president argues that drug dealers have not received proper consequences although they have killed thousands of people. His proposed plan focuses on three main areas of support which include increased access to treatment, cutting off the drug supply, and reducing the demand for opioids. Trump also wants to equip schools with overdose reversal drugs.
Decades ago, Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, launched a war on drugs when it overwhelmed black communities. Now, that the opioid epidemic is primarily striking the majority race helps explain why it is largely being called an epidemic and treated as a public health crisis, rather than a war. Being deemed a “catastrophe” for white America, politicians have shifted their view in ways that protect the majority, while still seeking to criminalize black sellers and users.
Are blacks the target of Trump’s death penalty? Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University professor, minister, and author offers a view of the role of race in responses to the opioid epidemic. He said:
White people have been medicalized while blacks have been criminalized. In the 80s and 90s, black people were sent to jail and deemed criminals for the same addiction. When the crack cocaine industry was at its height and African Americans were vulnerable they were not seen as those in need of medical attention, instead, they were challenged as a criminal population and imprisoned. Today, white brothers and sisters are given reprieve in the form of medical intervention in the name of relieving the addiction.
The medical approach versus the criminal approach has led to dramatically different consequences. The white population is now viewed as victims, instead of criminals. Whites are considered traumatized while blacks needed to be eradicated from the social construct.
The so-called war on drugs was created to target black, brown, poor and working-class communities, those communities that have borne the brunt of institutionalized, systemic, white supremacist violence. Millions of lives within the African American community have been destroyed by excessively harsh and severe punishment that does not end at the prison gate; to date, one of every eight black men has been disenfranchised because of a felony conviction.
In an interview with Dan Baum, John Ehrlichman, the chief domestic adviser to former President Richard Nixon and Watergate co-conspirator, admitted that blacks were a prime target for the Nixon presidency. He said:
The Nixon campaign in 1968 and the Nixon White House had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.
In the inner city, drugs have always been considered an epidemic for black families. However, now that it is taking the lives of white Americans, the country deems it a crisis. Even still, many have applauded Trump’s plan. They agree that drug dealers should not be spared the death penalty since they bring death and destruction to others. Here are a few Twitter posts that are in full support of the policy:
Matthew @ryteouswretch – Sounds harsh? Consider how many deaths were caused by the drugs these people spread! Way to go @realDonaldTrump.
Ava Armstrong @MsAvaArmstrong – President @realDonaldTrump is calling for death penalty for drug dealers. I agree with this theory. Kill them wherever you find them.
Yet, others argue the death penalty is the wrong approach. It is Big Pharma, not low-level drug dealers, that is largely responsible for the opioid epidemic. The following Twitter users believe Trump’s proposal totally misses the point:
Cecilia @Cechase – They’re mostly doctors and pharma companies and pharma salesmen. So this will never happen, but if they find one black guy selling them somewhere, yeah, they will fry him.
Korey Devine @KoreyDevine – Before we start killing people, let’s start funding treatment. As usual, Trump’s ideas are ass backward and ill-advised. This war on drugs will always fail It doesn’t make sense. Watch out people of color should pay attention. This is aimed at them. It’s Session’s dream come true.
Dr. DaShanne Stokes @DaShanneStokes – Drug enforcement often treats people of color more harshly than whites. Trump saying he wants the death penalty for drug convictions will disproportionately affect people of color.”
Doctors and other healthcare professionals agree that drugs are out of control. Many are calling for a health care-led response to the opioid epidemic. They are hopeful that instituting new strategies and less opioid-type painkillers will assist the country’s fight against addiction.
Extreme proposals like using the death penalty only perpetuate a harmful stigma. The country cannot execute its way out of this drug inflicted epidemic. There has already been one failed “War on Drugs” and now Trump seeks to revive the battle plan. Given the country’s history of victimization, the question remains, “Are blacks the target of President Trump’s death penalty?”
By Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
The Root: The Shame Is Not Ours: Black America, Poverty and the War on Drugs
Cleveland: Should drug dealers get the death penalty?
NBC News: Trump wants the death penalty for drug traffickers. He’s got it.
Harpers Magazine: Legalize It All
Top Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inline Image Courtesy of Cindy Shelbley’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Featured Image Courtesy of Penn State’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License