John Oliver starkly explains the problems with police and race, how we got here, what 'defunding' means

John Oliver on police violence and race
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/Last Week Tonight)

In a change of format, "our whole show is actually going to be about one thing, and you probably know what and you probably know why," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight. "All week, protesters have continued to fill the streets in all 50 states in the wake of the horrific murder of George Floyd by the police. And in response to those protests, which have been a stirring pushback against institutional racism and brutality, it's been frankly sickening to see them met with" more police brutality.

"Look, for any viewers sitting at home shocked by the scenes of police brutality, I get it — I'm white, too — but it's worth remembering, that's the tip of a very large iceberg," Oliver said. "It didn't start this week, or with this president, and it always disproportionately falls on black communities." He listed some "hard facts," including that 1 of ever 1,000 black men in America can expect to be killed by police, and laid out his three topics: how we got to this point, the obstacles to reform, and what we can do going forward.

Oliver tackled U.S. history, police militarization and "warrior" training, the mafia-like tactics of police unions, federal consent decrees, and the "qualified immunity" that protects bad cops from civil suits. He noted that Camden, New Jersey created a new police force "from the ground up" and explained "defunding the police," a "phrase that, on its face, may sound alarming to some" but "absolutely does not mean that we eliminate all comes and just succumb to the Purge," just shifting resources so police can do the narrow job they were hired for.

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"This clearly isn't about individual officers," Oliver said. "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 that it actually serves. And this is going to take sustained pressure and attention over a long period of time from all of us. ... Because it's going to be far too easy for nothing to meaningfully change here. That is what has always happened before." He gave the final word to a woman named Kimberly Jones, and you can watch that (NSFW language) below. Peter Weber

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