President Donald Trump announced a new plan on Monday to combat the opioid crisis that includes sentencing some drug traffickers to the death penalty when appropriate under current law. During an afternoon speech in New Hampshire, in which he also placed some blame for the opioid crisis on immigrants, the president praised countries that “don’t play games” on drugs and called for changes. “We have to change the laws,” he said.
New Hampshire has been hard hit by opioids, which have contributed to spikes in overdose deaths in recent years. The White House’s plan will also include calls for stricter enforcement, including the invocation of mandatory minimum sentences for lower levels of some opioids, more public awareness and expanded access to treatment and recovery programs.
The announcement to push executions fits with Trump’s previous statements on the death penalty and drug dealers.
Trump has previously called for the death penalty for drug dealers
Last week, he said drug dealers “kill 2,000, 3,000, 5,000 people during the course of his or her life” and only go to jail for “30 days, 60 days, 90 days — you might get a year” during a rally for a Republican candidate in Pennsylvania. During that rally, the president said that China and Singapore don’t have drug problems because they have the death penalty for dealers.
“The only way to solve the drug problem is through toughness,” he said. “When you catch a drug dealer, you’ve got to put him away for a long time.”
The president used similar language at White House summit on opioids earlier in March. “Some countries have a very tough penalty, the ultimate penalty, and they have much less of a drug problem than we do,” he said.
He’s praised the president of the Philippines for his approach
Trump has also praised the approach of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, whose “war on drugs” has led to the killing of thousands of citizens, many at the hands of the Philippines National Police, according to Human Rights Watch. According to a transcript of a call he had with Duterte in April of last year, Trump appeared to congratulate the leader of the Philippines for the “unbelievable job” he is doing with the “drug problem.”
“Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that,” Trump said on the call, according to the Intercept. The two leaders have also showcased their friendly relationship in bilateral meetings despite the leader’s alleged human rights abuses.
Trump has also promoted the death penalty more broadly
The U.S. and other nations have moved away from instituting capital punishment. Globally, 141 countries have abolished the practice and in 2016, 23 countries killed over 1,000 people with the most deaths occurring in China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, according to Amnesty International.
But President Donald Trump has long called for the use of the death penalty in the U.S., typically framing it as a “law and order” issue.
“In order to bring law and order back into our cities, we need the death penalty and authority given back to the police,” Trump told Playboy in 1990.
He’s also called for the death penalty in a number of specific cases.
In the late-1980s, he placed full-paged ads in New York newspapers that called for the execution of black and Latino teens who were accused of assaulting and raping a white woman who went jogging in Central Park. (The teens, known as the Central Park Five, were later exonerated. Trump maintains they were guilty.)
He tweeted a call for the death penalty after a gunman opened fire at the Empire State Building in 2012:
After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013:
And after a New York City terrorism incident which occurred while he was president, which experts said could cause problems for prosecutors:
Experts are troubled by the policy he is set to propose
According to reports ahead of the President’s New Hampshire appearance, Trump is calling for tougher penalties for opioid-related trafficking, but he will call for the death penalty only when it is applicable under current law.
Under federal law, the death penalty can be applied in some drug trafficking cases when a death occurs, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Still, the president’s focus on enforcement has troubled some drug policy advocates.
“Threatening execution of drug dealers is doubling down on a ‘war on drugs’ that has been an abject failure and, in fact, led to the deaths of quite a lot of people both in the U.S. and other parts of the world,” Widney Brown of the Drug Policy Alliance tells TIME. “It hasn’t done anything to stop the supply of drugs. It hasn’t lessened drug use.”
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