On June 7, John Oliver dedicated his entire Last Week Tonight episode to talking about America’s police brutality history. Amidst all of the ongoing protests for Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, Oliver used his platform to talk about the history of police reform and America’s current state of policing.
In Sunday’s episode, Oliver also addresses what defunding police forces would actually look like and why it won’t lead to a real-life The Purge.
As protests continue, many are demanding that police forces be reformed and defunded. For Oliver, he believes that the defunding and reformation of police departments should be the country’s top priority.
Oliver spent most of Sunday’s Last Week Tonight episode going through America’s history with police brutality. He also weighed in on why changes haven’t been made within police unions.
One big issue Oliver believes causes problems with police is the amount of power and duties they are responsible for. As police funding continues to increase, other public services such as education and social services see cuts in funding. This effectively has made the police the only force in many communities able to handle problems such as mental health and housing.
“We are asking police to do far too much,” Oliver says. “They have a massive array of complicated duties that in many cases they just aren’t equipped to handle, making them very much the Jared Kushners of local officials. Without, of course, the expression, complexion and general demeanor of a haunted baby.”
Within the HBO episode, Oliver also discusses how individual police officers aren’t the real problem. The institution as a whole is responsible despite the fact that it is easier to put blame on individual officers, especially those who have appeared in viral videos for enacting violence against civilians.
“It’s about a structure built on systemic racism that this country created intentionally,” Oliver says. “And now needs to be dismantled intentionally and replace with one that takes into account the needs of the people it actually serves. This is going to take sustained pressure and attention over a long period of time from all of us. Black communities have had to be perpetual activists while also routinely being disenfranchised. It is long past time for the rest of us to join and make sure their voices are heard and acted upon. Because it’s going to be far too easy for nothing to meaningfully change here. That is what has always happened before.”
One of Oliver’s biggest arguments is why defunding police departments should be the country’s top priority. Despite some misconceptions, the “defund the police” movement is not about eliminating police forces altogether. Instead, it is about redirecting some of the police’s abundant resources to other aspects within communities.
Oliver believes that redirecting some of the police’s funds to other resources will shift the “narrow conception of public safety.” With the redirected funds, more money and resources can be put into education, housing, mental health services and more.
“Defunding the police absolutely does not mean that we eliminate all cops and succumb to The Purge,” he says. “Instead, it’s about moving away from a narrow conception of public safety that relies on policing and punishment and investing in a community’s actual safety net. Things like stable housing, mental health services, and community organizations. That is the idea behind ‘defund the police’ if you actually listened to it.”
Oliver also sends a message to those who have not been directly impacted by systemic racism. For the people that haven’t faced injustice because of their skin color, Oliver urges them to find a way to help end white supremacy in America.
“The roots of white supremacy run deep and it is critical that we all grab a fucking shovel,” he says. “To do anything less would be absolutely unforgivable.”
The full Last Week Tonight episode with John Oliver is available to watch below.
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