Speed Reads

John Oliver Explains

John Oliver will make you care (and laugh) about police civil forfeiture

John Oliver is trying hard, and successfully, to become America's favorite wonk-comedian, tackling relatively arcane subjects and making people care about them while they're laughing. On Sunday night's Last Week Tonight, he turned his sharp wit on civil forfeiture laws. This "sounds like a Gwyneth Paltrow euphemism for divorce," Oliver allowed, "but incredibly, it's actually worse than that."

Basically, using civil forfeiture, police can seize your property (including cash) if they believe they have reasonable suspicion that it has been or will be used in a crime, and your stuff is considered guilty unless you can prove it innocent. Police forces have seized billions in cash in the past decade alone, and they often get to keep it for whatever purposes they want. "That is the kind of behavior we laugh at other countries for," Oliver said, "along with their accents and silly hats." If you don't like Oliver's humor, his footage of actual police civil forfeiture cases is shocking enough by itself.

At this point, with the bad of civil forfeiture laws outweighing the good, Oliver said, we have two choices: "We can take a hard look at reforming them, or, at the very least, we need to reform our network cop dramas to make them a lot more representative of what is actually happening." The last few minutes are a teaser for Law & Order: Civil Asset Forfeiture Unit. Jeff Goldblum might actually make this work. (There is some mildly NSFW language.) --Peter Weber