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John Oliver Insists People ‘Won’t Succumb to the Purge’ If We Defund the Police

In a format that he described as “a little bit different,” John Oliver dedicated his entire June 7 episode of Last Week Tonight to America’s current state of policing and the potential ways it can move forward in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. Among Oliver’s arguments in the segment was why it should be a top priority for the country’s police departments to be defunded, an idea that has become a prominent rallying cry for protesters and activists. “Defunding the police absolutely does not mean that we eliminate all cops and succumb to the Purge,” he explained. “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. That is the idea behind ‘defund the police’ if you actually listened to it.”

Oliver proceeded to discuss, at length, how individual police officers aren’t the problem as much as the institution as a whole, although it’s easy to put the blame on the officers who went viral for attacking civilians during recent protests. “It’s about a structure built on systemic racism that this country created intentionally, and now needs to be dismantled intentionally — and replace with one that takes into account the needs of the people it actually serves,” Oliver said. “This is going to take sustained pressure and attention over a long period of time from all of us. Black communities have had to be perpetual activists while also routinely being disenfranchised, and it is long past time for the rest of us to join and make sure their voices are heard and acted upon. Because it’s going to be far too easy for nothing to meaningfully change here. That is what has always happened before.”

And if you’re not directly impacted by the police and unmotivated by Oliver’s call to action, well, he has a few words for you. “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,” he concluded. “To do anything less would be absolutely unforgivable.”

John Oliver Explains Why We Should Defund the Police