John Oliver says the modern American police force is so bloated and outsized, it’d be funny — if it weren’t so dystopian and horrifying.
Oliver spent much of his Sunday night show unpacking the shooting death of unarmed black 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was killed in hazy circumstances by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo. The death sparked a week of protests — both violent and peaceful — and a forceful response from town and county police, who pointed semi-automatic guns at community members, broke up peaceful assemblies with tear gas, and arrested journalists on the scene.
On “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver took a deep dive into both the politics of race and the under-studied issue of police militarization, which has mushroomed in the last decade as the wars in the Middle East have come to a close. The national government spent billions of dollars on weapons — no surprise — and had to do something with all those death machines, so they have given many of them to local police forces.
Small towns now have semi-automatic weapons and tanks, and use them to harass minorities, Oliver said. Many say the police treatment harkens back to the days of Jim Crow, with tear gas replacing fire hoses. Ferguson has just four black police officers in a town that is 63 percent black — but 90 percent of arrests and searches in the town are of African-Americans.
The footage Oliver showed — all from CNN and other cable news outlets — is downright scary, no joke at all.