Comedian John Oliver devoted his HBO show June 7 to tracing the racist violence of modern U.S. policing to its white supremacy origins dating back to the slaveholder era as a tool to preserve White power.
“It’s important to understand how deeply policing in this country is entangled with white supremacy,” he said during the 30-minute segment. Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show was put together amid weeks of public uprising around the country in response to the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, among other examples of brutal and racist policing caught on video.
Police have not just been just incidentally tainted by racism, he said.
“Some of America’s first law enforcement units were the slave patrols charged with capturing and returning people who had escaped from slavery. And when slavery ended, White people had no intention of letting that be the end of White power.”
Quoting from Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book The New Jim Crow: “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.’”
“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.”
“This clearly isn’t about individual officers,” Oliver said. “It’s about a structure built on systemic racism that this country created intentionally, and now needs to be dismantled intentionally and replaced with one that takes into account the needs of the people that it actually serves.”
“That is the idea behind ‘defund the police,’ if you actually listen to it.”