Will Politicians and Police Treat Black Opioid Users with Compassion?

Will Politicians and Police Treat Black Opioid Users with Compassion?



Nadra Nittle

Since Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines last year, he’s faced a worldwide backlash for his deadly approach to the drug epidemic in his country. Under his control, the authorities have killed thousands of drug offenders, among them the opioid addicts that are overdosing with frightening frequency in the United States.

In September, Duterte boasted that he’d like to kill many more addicts.

“Hitler massacred three million Jews,” Duterte told a group of journalists then. “Now, there are three million drug addicts. … I’d be happy to slaughter them.” (Actually, about six million Jews died during the Holocaust.)


Police and others have killed approximately 6,000 drug offenders in the Philippines since last July, according to the U.S. State Department. Westerners have been so horrified by Duterte’s massacre of drug offenders that Donald Trump was widely criticized for congratulating his Filipino counterpart in April “on the unbelievable job on the drug problem.”

Trump may be a Duterte fan, but as the opioid epidemic in the United States causes overdose deaths to soar, politicians on both sides of the aisle have responded with compassion. Remarkably, police officers have as well. But as Blacks begin to die from opioid abuse, African-Americans wonder if they too will be treated as victims rather than criminals. After all, during the crack epidemic’s peak years in the 1980s and ‘90s, America’s war on drugs had far more in common with Duterte’s approach than it did with the message of compassion politicians and police officers are singing today.

Of course, the U.S. government didn’t outright declare open season on drug offenders as Duterte has. But rigid anti-drug laws, including uneven sentencing guidelines for crack vs. cocaine, robbed untold numbers of Blacks of their lives during this time. More than 80 percent of federal crack cocaine convictions involved African-Americans and men, women and children all died during the drug war that spanned the Reagan years through the Clinton years in the White House.