President Trump really wants to duplicate Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy of slaughtering thousands of small-time drug dealers.
Anonymous aides to Trump confided to Axios on Monday that Trump thinks highly of drug enforcement policy in Singapore and the Philippines, where even low-tier drug dealers can face the penalty if caught. In May of 2017, Duterte claimed that Trump told him he was doing a “great job” in his war on drug dealers.
“According to five sources who’ve spoken with Trump about the subject, he often leaps into a passionate speech about how drug dealers are as bad as serial killers and should all get the death penalty,” wrote Axios’ Jonathan Swan. “Trump has said he would love to have a law to execute all drug dealers here in America, though he’s privately admitted it would probably be impossible to get a law this harsh passed under the American system.”
Before becoming president of the Philippines, Duterte was mayor of Davao City for over 20 years, and conducted extrajudicial killings of citizens suspected of gang or drug activity using private death squads. As president, Duterte expanded his killings of small-time drug dealers nationwide, and Human Rights Watch estimates the death toll from his campaign against drug dealers is more than 12,000 as of January 2018.
If Trump’s proposal to sentence drug dealers to capital punishment came true, it would likely disproportionately affect low-income youth. A 2000 study from the Quarterly Journal of Economics found that small-time drug dealers only make, on average, $20,000 to $30,000 per year (roughly $29,000 to $34,000 in today’s dollars) in addition to whatever legal income they earn. And a 2010 report from Johns Hopkins University found that a significant number of teens double as drug dealers.
Among adolescents, peers are important sources for obtaining drugs. Approximately 25% of all students in grades 9 through 12 indicate someone has offered, sold, or given them an illegal drug on school property. Among high school seniors reporting prescription drug misuse, approximately 42% indicated they bought drugs from a friend or relative. Further, in the United States, drug violations account for 11.6% of all juvenile arrests and juvenile arrests account for 12.4% of all arrests for drug violations.
While Trump is unlikely to publicly suggest killing drug dealers, Axios reported that he would likely call for harsh minimum sentencing for small-time dealers, like a five-year sentence for someone dealing as little as two grams of fentanyl — a highly addictive synthetic opioid. Drug czar Kellyanne Conway believes there would be widespread support for incarcerating small-time opioid traffickers.
“There is an appetite among many law enforcement, health professionals and grieving families that we must toughen up our criminal and sentencing statutes to match the new reality of drugs like fentanyl, which are so lethal in such small doses,” Conway told Axios.
Logan Espinoza is a freelance contributor specializing in economic issues. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and daughter. Contact him at logan DOT espinoza AT yahoo DOT com.