John Oliver on Police (w/coda by Kimberly Jones)
John Oliver has put together 33:32 that are 100% worth watching. The video is linked below and it is titled, simply, “Police”.
He mixes some humor—mostly dark, with very little of his usual wackiness or memes—with an exceedingly well-researched and -written video essay on racism and policing in the U.S.
He starts with a quick run-down of the peaceful protests and the violent reaction of the state against it. He plays, in full, a 30-second message delivered by a pissed-off citizen to LA police chief Michael Moore, delivered in an open forum held on Zoom.
“I find it disgusting that the LAPD is slaughtering peaceful protesters on the street. I had two friends go to the protest in Beverly Hills a couple of days ago and the protest was peaceful until the police showed up with their excessive riot force, shooting rubber bullets and throwing tear gas. IS THIS WHAT YOU THINK OF PROTECTING AND SERVING? BECAUSE I THINK IT’S BULLSHIT! FUCK YOU MICHAEL MOORE! I refuse to call you an officer or a chief because you don’t deserve those titles. You are a disgrace. Suck my dick and choke on it! I yield my time. Fuck you!”
Oliver moves on to a tight encapsulation of the history of racism and policing in the U.S., focusing more closely on events since the late 60s. He doesn’t leave out Bill Clinton’s many exhortations to put “100,000 more policemen on the streets.”. Instead, he positively dwells on it, which is completely fair, as Clinton was uniquely responsible a four-fold increase in prison population during his democratic and liberal reign.
At this point, Oliver very briefly addresses the media response so far, which is to focus almost laser-like on violence on both sides, as well as spending 90% of the time discussing looting. He does not go into this line of reasoning, because,
“[…] if you’re asking why spontaneous decentralized protests can’t control every one of its participants more than you are asking the same about a taxpayer-funded heavily regimented paid workforce, you can also — in the words of this generation’s Robert Frost — suck my dick and choke on it.”
With that baseline established, Oliver moves on to address the very real problem that police are massively out of their depth and made to do myriad jobs they were never intended to do (taking a swipe at Jared Kushner here).
“While we should absolutely be angry at the police right now, we should also be angry at the series of choices that left them as the only public resource in some communities. And, on top of all of that, we’ve made those choices even more dangerous in recent years by needlessly arming police to the fucking teeth. (Emphasis added.)”
Next, he segues to a segment on the militarization of police, not only with equipment but with an ingrained attitude of unbridled violence and completely unearned superiority. Here, Oliver plays a clip from one of David Grosse’s seminars, in which we are treated to his hideous tutelage delivered from his narrow-eyed, inbred-looking face.
The next section deals with “Obstacles” that have historically blocked any attempts at bringing policing back in line with its original goal—and, quite frankly, the goal that it already has in nearly every other OECD country. Unsurprisingly, the problem is endemic and wholly unquestioned and thus-unpunished racism combined with absolutely poisonously amoral and overwhelmingly powerful police unions.
Oliver lets some of the absolute criminals at the head of these organizations speak for—and thus, damn—themselves. The final bit of this segment is a whole crowd of officers smiling and cheering Donald Trump when he tells them to use more police brutality on people they’ve just arrested. Not only should no-one condone violence as punishment—already illegal—but he’s talking about people who’ve been neither charged nor indicted nor prosecuted. And Trump and the police laugh and agree that they don’t fucking care.
The next item is, of course, the legal checks on police, which is in tatters, at least partly due to Qualified Immunity, which is basically that the officers can always say that they were “just doing their jobs”—no matter what they did. It’s as if Nuremberg had never happened and changed the shape of international law.
Once again, America shows its exceptionalism by simply not acknowledging moral and philosophical advancements that more-civilized peoples have long since accepted. Were they to do so, how would they continue to subjugate the poor and, specifically and exceedingly brutally, people of color?
Several times, Oliver makes sure to note for the hard-of-hearing that “this didn’t start with Trump”; to make sure, Oliver lets Joe Biden speak for himself, in a recent speech in a church, opining that the solution he recommends is that police be trained to shoot people in the leg rather than the heart.
Oliver sums Biden’s contribution up with,
“That lack of imagination is not particularly surprising coming from Joe Biden, who is truly the getting-shot-in-the-leg-instead-of-the-heart candidate right now.
“And while that’s obviously absurd, the instinct that Biden just displayed there, that the question is not if an officer should shoot someone, but where, is shared by many politicians.”
Oliver next covers “defunding the police”, because the measures we’ve used so far “aren’t going to cut it” because “in many cases, you’re dealing with an entrenched police culture resistant to any effort to compel reform.” Oliver lets Tucker Carlson utterly mischaracterize what it means to “defund police” before telling us what it actually does mean:
“Defunding the police absolutely does not mean that we eliminate all cops and just succumb to The Purge.
“Instead, it’s about moving away from a narrow conception of public safety that relies on policing and punishment and investing in a community’s actual safety net: things like stable housing, mental-health services, and community organizations.
“The concept is that the role of the police can significantly shrink because they are not responding to the homeless or to mental-health calls or arresting children in school or really any other situation where the best solution is not somebody showing up with a gun.
“That is the idea behind “defund the police”.”
The state will resist this with every fiber of its being because that is what the state does. The police are the army of the state. They will not stand idly by as their role and their share of the power and affluence is reduced. Expect resistance. Expect the Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marines.
Even Chris Hedges in an interview with Jimmy Dore called The Ruling Elite Has Lost All Legitimacy (YouTube) has finally had to move a bit from a 100% pacifist position—because the State will. Just. Not. Listen. Every peaceful move has been met with a counter-move that meant lost ground and more suffering. The short-term suffering engendered by semi-violent revolt may be the only way to avoid even more long-term suffering.
When Oliver says that this “is going to sustained attention and sustained pressure over a long period of time”, he’s absolutely right. This is where I wonder whether the spark that has been lit is finally burning hotly enough to not be extinguished by the few crumbs that the state and its elites will eventually throw to the masses to settle them back down.
“It’s going to be far too easy for nothing to meaningfully change here because that is what has always happened before”
Nearly at the end, Oliver even mentions the Kerner Commission and its report from the late 60s, whose conclusions contain nearly literally all of the measures we’re considering today—over 50 years later, as if it were a new problem to tackle. Even at the time, the social scientist Kenneth Clark said,
“I read the report of the 1919 riot in Chicago, and it is as if I were reading the report of the investigating committee of the Harlem riot of 1935, the report of the investigating committee of the Harlem riot of 1943, the report of the McCone Commission on the Watts riot .
“I must again in candor say to you…it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland with the same moving picture reshown over and over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations, and the same inaction.”
Oliver deftly lets an amazing woman give the final words of his show. Here he shows a video of an extraordinarily eloquent, passionate and seemingly completely extemporaneous speech by Kimberly Jones from the full video How Can We Win by David Jones Media (YouTube).
“You can’t win. The game is fixed.
“So, when they say, why do you burn down the community, why do you burn down your own neighborhood…it’s not ours! We don’t own anything! We don’t own anything.
“Trevor Noah said it so beautifully last night: There’s a social contract that we all have. That if you steal, if I steal, then the person who is the authority comes in and they fix the situation. But the person who fixes the situation is killing us!
“So the social contract is broken. And if the social contract is broken, why the fuck do I give a shit about burning the fuckin’ football hall of fame, about burnin’ the fuckin’ Target?
“You broke the contract when you killed us in the streets and didn’t give a fuck. You broke the contract when, for 400 years, we played your game and built your wealth. You broke the contract when we built our wealth again, on our own, by our bootstraps, in Tulsa—and you dropped bombs on us. When we built it in Rosewood and you slaughtered us.
“You broke the contract. So fuck your Target. Fuck your hall of fame.
“As far as I’m concerned, they can burn this bitch to the ground.
“And it still wouldn’t be enough and they are lucky that what black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.”
Hedges actually said, starting at 31:56, that.
“Ishmael Reed was a good friend of mine in Oakland. He was very angry at Antifa, for showing up in Oakland during Occupy and smashing the windows of local businesses. He said, ‘look, I don’t have a problem with smashing windows…but drive up to La Hoya, where Romney lives, and smash his windows.‘
“And that’s what’s interesting about this uprising: they’re not burning their own neighborhoods. Fifth Avenue in New York got shellacked. Now that’s different and it shows a kind of class consciousness.
“Which, I don’t think that property-destruction or attacking the police…I understand it, but that’s not the same as to condone it. I don’t think that that’s going to be effective. What I think is effective, in a kind of dark way, is that idiot Trump, taking peaceful protesters outside the White House and using pepper spray and rubber bullets to remove them so he can stand in front of a church in his welcome-to-fascist America speech. That will really ignite the protests. (Emphasis added.)”
Now, he still says that he doesn’t condone violence, but damned if he didn’t grin from ear to ear when he said the word shellacked.
Also, as emphasized above, Hedges also sees Trump now as a catalyst that will keep the fires of the revolt going longer than previous revolutionary fits and starts. He acknowledges that it’s “dark” because short-term people are going to get hurt, but in the long-term, the revolution will reduce suffering—there is, perhaps, no other way.↩