While most of the civilized world has abandoned execution for moral as well as practical reasons, President Trump is now proposing an expanded application of the death penalty - traditionally applied only in first degree murder cases - for all “major” drug dealers.
And even then, the death penalty has become so problematic and costly that the thirty-one states where it’s still legal only executed, or tried to execute, twenty-three people last year. The legal and correctional cost of execution vastly exceeds the cost of a life sentence.
The image of a blind-folded Lady Justice carrying a sword and a set of scales symbolizes for Americans the fair and equal administration of the law without corruption, greed, prejudice, or favor. And with that in mind, I wonder if the criminal justice system would be willing to apply the death penalty equally across all socio-economic classes and racial categories or just drug dealers from countries President Trump dismisses with expletives.
If so, the billionaire scions of the Sackler family who are directly involved in the mass-marketing of Purdue’s oxycontin might have good cause to be worried - as might the many thousands of Dr. Feelgoods around the country who continue today to dispense opiates to those with the money to pay a premium.
Since 1999, 200,000 Americans have died of opiate overdoses. Eighty per cent of today’s heroin and fentanyl users started on prescription painkillers. The CDC’s latest figures show a hundred and forty-five Americans a day dying from opioid overdoses. And a recent study compared Purdue’s marketing strategy to that of the Xalisco cartel which targeted methadone clinic neighborhoods, and offered potential customers free samples of their product.
Using I.M.S. data, Purdue targeted populations uniquely susceptible to its product – poor communities with little education or opportunity and a high incidence of work-related injuries. And they offered doctors coupons for a free initial prescription, of which thirty-four thousand were redeemed. Last year, 2.3 million Ohio residents - some 20% - got a prescription for opioids.
If we’re sincere about Lady Justice’s commitment to administration of the law fairly and without favor, the criminal in the executive suite must be held just as liable to prosecution as the street criminal.
I wonder if President Trump would be prepared to apply his death penalty proposal to his peers among the wealthiest one percent of white Americans as rigorously as he would to anyone else.