John Oliver Devotes Show to ‘Defund the Police’: Structure Built on Racism Intentionally, We Should ‘Dismantle Intentionally’


John Oliver decided to change his usual Last Week Tonight format on Sunday and dedicated the entire episode to one topic: the United States police system, commenting on current brutality, the history of law enforcement, and reforming the police.

“We’re going to do something a little bit different tonight,” Oliver began. “Our whole show is actually going to be about one thing, and you probably know what, and you probably know why.”

Oliver explained he would be addressing the protests that have taken place in every state in America for the past two weeks after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police.

“And in response to those protests, which have been a stirring push back against institutional racism and brutality has been frankly sickening,” Oliver continued before showing a clip of brutal tactics used to police the protesters. “If police  are trying to convince the public they’re not guilty of displaying excessive force, it’s probably not a good idea to repeatedly display excessive force on national television.”

Oliver bashed President Donald Trump’s Rose Garden briefing on Friday, during which he claimed that it was a “great day for George Floyd” in light of the surprising decline in jobless numbers, calling the statement “utterly fucking disgusting.”

The host noted that he and other white people must be surprised at the countless examples of police brutality, and explained, “It didn’t start this week or with this president and it always disproportionately falls on black communities.”

He then listed some showing statistics, revealing that Minneapolis police use force against black people seven times more often than against white people. Adding that black Americans are two and a half times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police and that one in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police.

“If you are black in America, I can’t even imagine how scared, angry, and exhausted you must feel,” he said. “Not only this week, but constantly. Medical groups say police violence again black and brown Americans are just one of many physical and psychological factors that make racism a serious public health issue.”

He later addressed the history of law enforcement in the United States and added that it is no coincidence police brutality is still so prevalent, referencing slave patrols in the Antebellum South and the fact that police once enforced segregation and even participated in lynchings.

“The police have not just been incidentally tainted by racism,” he said. “For much of U.S. history, law enforcement meant enforcing laws that were explicitly designed to subjugate black people.”

Oliver tackled President Richard Nixon and President Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs, which disproportionately incarcerated men of color, and noted that Democrats also have to take the blame for “broken windows” or “zero tolerance” laws, which imprisoned people for minor crimes and led to “the saturation of police in low-income communities of color.”

He then brought up defunding the police, something many protesters have been calling for, and explained it doesn’t mean eliminating all police.

“It means moving away from a narrow conception of public safety that relies on policing and punishment and investing in a community’s actual safety — things like stable housing, mental health services, and community organizations,” he said. “The concept is that the role of the police can then significantly shrink because they are not responding to the homeless or to mental health calls or arresting children in schools or really any other situation where they best solution is not someone showing up with a gun — that’s the idea of defunding the police.”

“This clearly isn’t about individual officers,” he added. “It’s about a structure built on systemic racism that this country created intentionally and now needs to dismantle intentionally and replace with one that takes into account the needs of the people it actually serves … Black communities have had to be perpetual activists while also routinely being disenfranchised and it is long past time for the rest of us to join and make sure their voices are heard and acted upon.”

Oliver ended the episode with a clip of Kimberly Jones, author of I’m Not Dying with You Tonight, discussing the protests and police brutality:

Watch above, via HBO.

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