This week’s Last Week Tonight was devoted predominantly to police violence and accountability, with John Oliver discussing at length the nature of the broken trust between police officers and the people they allegedly serve. The segment comes, of course, in the wake of the seemingly unending police killings of black men. It also reflects the increasing public knowledge of the militarized manner in which American police are trained (a subject that a new documentary — Do Not Resist — also depicts in harrowing detail).
Oliver began the segment by saying, “As you know, the police have been at the center of a great deal of controversy lately that’s been impossible to escape, from the Black Lives Matter movement, to Colin Kaepernick’s protest, to Mary J. Blige awkwardly singing a Springsteen song at Hillary Clinton.” (This, incidentally, marked the second time the musical Mary J. Blige/Clinton interview has been invoked as an amusing punchline on a late night television show.) Oliver noted the calls for police accountability in the aftermath of these killings — and the fact that despite the escalating discourse about it, accountability seems to still be so rare. He says that there’s no doubt that police have a “difficult, dangerous, challenging job” but that that’s “all the more reason for ensuring that it’s done to the highest standard.”
Oliver excoriates the notion that this all boils down to a few “bad apples” — emphasizing just how structural the problems with American policing seem to be. He references a researcher who compiled data from Google alerts, saying, “His stats are truly chilling. Out of thousands of fatal police shootings since 2005, only 77 officers have been been charged with murder or manslaughter. And to date, only 26 have been convicted. And while the truth is many police shootings are justified, 26 seems suspiciously low.”
Oliver also speaks about the politics within the country’s 18,000 police departments, how data can so often get lost, and how officers who might want to report on their colleagues’ misconduct can often feel pressured into silence. “Misconduct is often investigated internally by an officer’s colleagues, which does not inspire confidence… But police accountability doesn’t just suffer from an unwritten code of silence; that code can be enshrined within state laws or union contracts as well,” he says.
Watch the near 20-minute segment: