Oliver: 'The History of Policing in This Country Is Entangled With White Supremacy'

June 9th, 2020 10:20 AM

Sunday’s edition of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver featured the British-born host going on a profane rant against the police. The left-wing comic made it perfectly clear that he supported the new fad supported by those on the far left: the defunding of the police. At one point, the HBO star sneered that "the history of policing in this country is entangled with white supremacy." 

Oliver praised a man who called into a Los Angeles Police Commission Meeting and told Chief Michel Moore to “suck my d*** and choke on it, as “this generation’s Robert Frost.” Oliver himself directed the phrase “suck my d*** and choke on it” to people who are “asking why a spontaneous, decentralized protest can’t control every one of its participants more than you are asking the same about a taxpayer-funded heavily regimented workforce.”



The fact that Oliver embraced the use of such vile profanity should not come as that much of a surprise. In the past, he has urged Republican Senator Ted Cruz to “suck my balls” and “lick my scrote.”

Apparently taking his cues from a recent Washington Post op-ed, Oliver complained that “the police have long enjoyed an exalted role in American society,” referring to their favorable portrayals in pop culture. The HBO host proceeded to outline how “the history of policing in this country is entangled with white supremacy,” spending nearly his entire show piling on the men and women in blue.

It appeared as if Oliver used the New York Times’s far-left 1619 Project as an inspiration when crafting his monologue because, as part of his effort to paint the police as white supremacists, Oliver proclaimed that “some of America’s first law enforcement units were the slave patrols; tasked with capturing and returning people who’d escaped from slavery.” Oliver also cited the “war on drugs,” the embrace of the “broken windows” policing, and “stop-and-frisk” as examples of the police’s embrace of white supremacy.

Eventually, Oliver got around to suggesting that American cities should “defund the police.” He spoke favorably about Camden, New Jersey, which “dissolved their city police force entirely, with officers having to reapply for their jobs.” After using the phrase “defunding the police” for the first time, Oliver admitted that it “may sound alarming” at first but ultimately dismissed that conclusion.

Attempting to put a bow on the concept, Oliver described “defunding the police” as “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.”

As the show came to a close, Oliver made one final attempt to push for defunding the men and women in blue: “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 the account the needs of the people that it actually serves.”

 A transcript of the relevant portion of Sunday’s edition of Last Week Tonight is below. Click “expand” to read more.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver


11:08 PM

JOHN OLIVER: And these protesters have received a great deal of support, with massive marches taking place all around the world. And the protestors’ message has taken many forms, from chants, to signs, to a man who called into an L.A. Police Commission meeting held over Zoom. Now, he had been given 30 seconds; which he used with maximum efficiency to deliver a message for police chief Michel Moore.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I find it disgusting that the LAPD is slaughtering peaceful protesters on the street. I had two friends go to the protests in Beverly Hills about a couple of days ago, and the protest was peaceful until the police showed up with their excessive, violent 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, Michel 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: If the President is taking notes, that is what a perfect call looks like. My favorite part is that, after he’s finished unloading on that police chief, he yields his time, realizes he still has a couple of seconds left, so un-yields it, and throws in a bonus “fuck you.” Now as for the President himself, he initially hid from the protesters in a bunker; later claiming he wasn’t hiding, he was actually just “inspecting” it. Then, his Attorney General had police gas protestors outside the White House so that Trump could have an inexplicable photo op at a nearby church, while holding up a bible like it’s the ticket for his sandwich order that was just called. He also, in announcing job numbers on Friday, invoked George Floyd’s name, saying, “this was a great day for him,” which is utterly fucking disgusting. But we’re…we’re actually not going to focus on Trump tonight. Nor are we, unlike some in cable news, going to dwell on the incidents of looting that occurred, except to say: If you’ve said the name “Macy’s” more than you’ve said the name “Breonna Taylor” this week, you can very much fuck off. Likewise, if you’re asking why a spontaneous, decentralized protest 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, fuck you. Instead, tonight, let’s talk about the police. Because all week, we’ve seen graphic videos, which are going to be hard to watch, of them driving directly into crowds, beating people with sticks, and sometimes assaulting the right to assemble, with shocking speed and barbarity. 


11:12:18 PM

OLIVER: Clearly, the police are just one part of a much larger system of racial inequality. But for tonight, we are going to focus primarily on them, and try to address three basic questions: How the fuck we got to this point, what the obstacles to reform have been, and what we can do going forward. And let’s start by just acknowledging that the police have long enjoyed an exalted role in American society. In pop culture, they’re the heroes of beloved movies and TV shows like “Cranky Gun Grandpa,” and “Cocaine Cops Who Fuck,” and “Manic Bigot and His One Black Friend.” America loves nothing more than a renegade cop who doesn’t play by the rules. But, of course, the reality of policing is, and has always been, very different. And it might be worth going through some of the history here, because it’s important to understand how deeply policing in this country is entangled with white supremacy. And I know you might be thinking: Well, join the club, policing. This is America. The only institution not deeply entangled with a history of white supremacy is Olive Garden. And that’s only because it’s always been a powerful symbol of white inferiority. But the police have not just been incidentally tainted by racism. For much of U.S. history, “law enforcement” meant enforcing laws that were explicitly designed to subjugate black people. Some of America’s first law enforcement units were the slave patrols; tasked with capturing and returning people who’d escaped from slavery. And when slavery ended, white people had no intention of letting that be the end of white power. As one Alabama planter said in the wake of emancipation: “We have the power to pass stringent police laws to govern the Negroes—this is a blessing—for they must be controlled in some way or white people cannot live among them.” And I know that’s uncomfortable to hear. It’s certainly uncomfortable for me to say. But if we want to talk about how we got here, it’s important to remember that we got here on purpose. Now, for a century after that, police in the south were responsible for enforcing segregation, while allowing, and sometimes participating in, lynchings and anti-black terrorism. And as black people migrated to the north by the millions, they were met there, yet again, by brutality. And all of this, coupled with the continued denial of economic and housing opportunities, not always particularly subtle, by the way…meant that, by the summer of 1967, there were a series of high-profile uprisings against racial injustice across the United States…or as white people actually described that exact time. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The summer of 1967. It is known as the “Summer of love.”


OLIVER: Yeah, it is known as that. And that’s a pretty big disconnect, isn’t it? And it honestly makes me slightly worry that what’s happening right now will be remembered one day by white historians as “The summer of Chromatica.” And look, things did not improve from the ‘60s onward. Nixon pledged fealty to law and order and started the War on Drugs, which Reagan later turbo-charged, and, by the time we got to the ‘90s, a school of thought called “broken windows” or “zero tolerance” policing had started to take root; which held that, if minor crimes are left unattended, it will lead to more serious crimes. Therefore, police had better crack down on those minor offenses. That fueled the saturation of police in low-income communities of color, and gave way to policies like stop-and-frisk; which essentially allowed police officers to search people at random. At that policy’s peak, in 2011, of the nearly 700,000 stops recorded in New York, the vast majority were of black and Latino people. Or, to put that another way, those policies, too often, basically amounted to this fucking bullshit, just under a different name. And that sort of aggressive policing was accompanied by constant calls to increase the number of police officers on the streets.


11:31:42 PM

OLIVER: But the fact is, the incremental reforms that we’ve tried, like the wider use of body cameras, and implicit bias and use-of-force training are not, on their own, going to cut it. And I’m not…not saying that we shouldn’t still try them, but in many cases, you are contending with an entrenched police culture resistant to any effort to compel reform. That is why many are advocating that we rethink police from the ground up. One small example of this is Camden, New Jersey, which, ten years ago was policed by a deeply troubled, corruption-ridden force. But in 2013, they dissolved their city police force entirely, with officers having to reapply for their jobs. And in doing that, they’ve been able to meaningfully shift the culture; while also instituting policy changes that have led to both a drop in excessive-force complaints, and some rebuilding of community trust. And look, I’m not saying that it’s been easy, perfect, or even that it would work everywhere. But it should expand our idea of what is possible. One even broader idea that’s gaining momentum right now is defunding the police. Now, that’s a phrase that, on its face, may sound alarming to some. In fact, just watch this professional alarmist be alarmed, on his very bad face.


TUCKER CARLSON: Defund the police. No more cops. That’s what they’re fighting for. That seems like a fringe position, but in the Democratic Party, it isn’t anymore. If you live in a gated community, it might sound like a good idea. You’ve got your own police force. You have no plans to replace them with rapid response social workers. So, you’re set no matter what happens. There aren’t going to be any rapes on your street. But what about everyone else? What’s gonna happen to them? 


OLIVER: Okay, first of all, in all sincerity, Tucker, you seem nervous. This is a difficult moment, and…and I really hope you’re taking time for yourself; whether it’s through meditation, or yoga, or just kidding, fuck you forever, Tucker Carlson, you sentient polo mallet! Second, given the shockingly low number of rape cases that actually result in charges, much less convictions, I really wouldn’t be holding that up as proof that our current system is working well. And finally, 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.


11:36:30 PM

OLIVER: Look, 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 the account the needs of the people that it actually serves.