Despite current outcries to demilitarize, defund, or altogether abolish the police after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, according to one recent poll, more than half of Americans still don’t see police violence as a “very serious problem.” If stories play a role in shaping public opinion, the legacy of American cop narratives has mostly functioned as escapist storytelling for white comfort at the expense of black experience: Crimes are solved in an hour and the good guys tend to win, when in reality fewer than half of reported violent and property crimes are solved. These shows can’t faithfully address systemic racism and the reality of police violence any more than white-savior narratives can faithfully reflect black achievement.
The Last Week Tonight host traces the history of America’s police culture, one ‘deeply entwined’ with white supremacy, and what’s obstructing change
“For any viewers sitting at home shocked by the scenes of police brutality, I get it – I’m white, too,” said Oliver. “But it’s worth remembering: that’s the tip of a very large iceberg. It didn’t start this week, or with this president, and it always disproportionately falls on black communities.”
This history can be traced from capturing escaped slaves to the policy of stop and frisk. Associated with this, police have become heavily armed.
On top of that, America has armed police “to the fucking teeth”, a subject Oliver and his team investigated six years ago. This has promoted a sub-industry of training seminars to reinforce the idea of the police at war, such as the “killology” training, a haunting clip of which showed an officer telling fellow cops to think of themselves as “predators”. “You know, the problem with telling someone that they’re a predator is that it primes them to see the rest of the world as potential prey,” Oliver said. “And of course cops who went through this training would end up on edge. You wouldn’t train a barber by saying, ‘here are your scissors, snip like this, and oh yeah, this is how you puncture the carotid artery.’”
Often this spending is in place of other social and health services. This is something that Douglas Rushkoff touches on.
Civil servants can only exist in a civil society. And a civil society requires servants trained in civility.
Oliver explains that at the heart of all this is a culture of systemic racism.
“If you’re not directly impacted by it,” Oliver concluded, “it is tempting to look for a reason to feel better about the world, to look at pictures of cops kneeling and think oh, well, we just need more of that! But we need so much more than that. Because ours is a firmly entrenched system in which the roots of white supremacy run deep. And it is critical that we all grab a fucking shovel.”
Elsewhere on the web, Stephen Ceasar reports on the military weapons being used to protect schools.
The Los Angeles School Police Department, which serves the nation’s second-largest school system, will return three grenade launchers but intends to keep 61 rifles and a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored vehicle it received through the program.
Cory Doctorow rightly calls out the absurdity of this.
If you think that “facilitating education” involves an AR-15, you should not be allowed within 10 miles of any educational institution, for the rest of your life.
Mariame Kaba argues that reform is not enough and what ‘defund the police’ actually means.
We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place.
We can build other ways of responding to harms in our society. Trained “community care workers” could do mental-health checks if someone needs help. Towns could use restorative-justice models instead of throwing people in prison.
Speaking from a local perspective, Marcia Langton used her Queen’s Birthday honour to call for urgent action. Responding to the fact that since the royal commission’s final report in 1991 432 Aboriginal people have died in prison, and the Indigenous incarceration rate is double what it was 30 years ago.
I would have thought it’s pretty straightforward. Do not kill Aborigines.