In John Oliver’s view, it’s time for serious police reform.
On Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight”, the host addressed the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, which have taken place around the world.
Then, on Monday, Oliver joined Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” to talk more about the idea of defunding the police.
He explained that he first learned about the concept through Wyatt Cenac’s show “Problem Areas”.
“That was the first time I started realizing what defunding the police actually meant,” Oliver recalled. “It wasn’t a punitive thing to do. It was reallocating resources—and that would look different wherever you lived.”
He added, “It was about serving whatever community the police were in better and to trying to decouple safety from policing.”
Oliver explained, “You realize that things are so bad, you need solutions that are gonna match it…The problem, of course, is if the police don’t realize the scale of the problem, they’re not going to accept the scale of the solution.”
Talking about the importance of translating the protests into policy, Oliver told Fallon, “The key thing is for the outrage to now be matched with action because this machine has been very, very deliberately built to resist change, to kind of absorb outrage and not fundamentally change, so it is going to take sustained, significant effort to get the reforms that are going to be required here for anything to meaningfully change because we’ve just been here before. We’ve been at points in American history where things have ‘felt different this time’ before.”
On his “Last Week Tonight” episode on Sunday, Oliver dealt directly with the issue of policing and police brutality, particularly against members of the Black community.
“If you are Black in America, I can’t even imagine how scared, angry, and exhausted you must feel,” he said. “The police are just one part of a larger system of racial inequality.”
After running through the long and difficult history of racism in American policing, the host targeted a number of areas for reform, including police unions preventing accountability for officer misconduct.
“When faced with accountability they don’t like, unions will often issue the ultimate threat: simply pull back and let crime rise,” Oliver explained.
He also pointed to the incredible amount of money spent on legal settlements by police departments, amounting to over $1 billion from 10 cities over just five years.
“If you’re spending over a billion dollars on misconduct settlements you might want to seriously examine what conduct looks like,” he said.
Oliver then suggested some radical reform solutions.
“The incremental reforms that we’ve tried like the wide use of body cameras and implicit bias and use of force training are not on their own going to cut it,” he said. “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t still try them but in many cases you’re contending with entrenched police culture resistant to any effort to compel reform. That is why many are advocating that we rethink police from the ground up.”
Among the most prominent ideas taking hold in the wake of the recent protests has been the proposal to “defund the police,” which Oliver explained to his audience.
“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 the best solution is not someone showing up with a gun — that’s the idea of defunding the police.”
The host concluded, “This clearly isn’t about individual officers. 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.”