John Oliver chose to forgo the usual Last Week Tonight format in favor of spending his entire episode Sunday night talking about the police brutality that led to the anti-racism protests that followed the May 25 killing in Minneapolis of an unarmed black man, George Floyd.
Police: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

John Oliver chose to forgo the usual Last Week Tonight format in favor of spending his entire episode Sunday night talking about the police brutality that led to the anti-racism protests that followed the May 25 killing in Minneapolis of an unarmed black man, George Floyd.

Aired on June 7, 2020

Hello there, and welcome to the show. And look, we’re gonna do something a little bit different tonight. Our whole show is actually gonna be about one thing, and you probably know what, and you probably know why. Because all week long protesters have continued to fill the streets in all 50 states in the wake of the horrific murder of George Floyd by the police. And in response to those protests, which have been a stirring pushback against institutional racism and brutality, has been frankly sickening to see them met with this.

“Across the country, peaceful protests have too often devolved into standoffs, with heavily armed police using military style tactics. Flashbangs, tear gas, rubber bullets, helicopters, armored vehicles.”

“We’re out here peacefully protesting, but they all act like they’re going to war.”

Yeah, they are. And look, if police are trying to convince the public they’re not guilty of displaying excessive force, it’s probably not a good idea to repeatedly display excessive force on national television, including in this city, where Mayor de Blasio praised them for their tremendous restraint, and Governor Cuomo threatened to send in the National Guard. And I’ll say this, having recently said that I couldn’t wait to go back to hating Andrew Cuomo again, I didn’t think the opportunity would come quite this soon.

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

“I find it disgusting that the LAPD slaughtering peaceful protesters on the street. I had two friends go to the protest in Beverly Hills a couple 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 your think is protecting and serving? Because I think it’s bullshit! Fuck you Michael 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!”

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 second left, so unyield it and throws in a bonus “fuck you.”

Now, as for the president himself, he initially hit on the protesters in the bunker, later claiming he wasn’t hiding, he was actually just “inspecting it.” Then his attorney general had police gas protesters outside the White House, so that Trump could have an inexplicable photo op in a nearby church while holding up a Bible like it’s the ticket for a 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 were 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 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 ask why spontaneous decentralized protests 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 “sucked by 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.

Prematurely shooting people? Prematurely using excessive force?

It’s genuinely impossible to overstate how enraging that is. They’re protesting excessive force by police, and the police just start pepper spraying them like it’s fucking sunscreen. And that’s just one of hundreds and hundreds of videos. We’re taping this Saturday morning, who knows what will have happened by Sunday night. Maybe they’ll be using grenades, even as the New York Times weighs in with an op-ed titled “Why we need to bring Hitler back to life as a robot right now.” They just think it’s valuable that you read that point of view. I mean they didn’t but they think that you really should.

And look, for any of us sitting at home shocked by the scenes of police brutality, I get it, I’m white too. But it’s worth remembering, that’s the tip of a very large iceberg. It didn’t start this week, all with this president, and it always disproportionately falls on black communities. Because here are some hard facts. In Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered, police use force against black people at seven times the rate of whites. Black Americans are two-and-a-half times more likely than whites to be killed by police. And about one in every thousand black men can expect to be killed by police.

If you’re black in America, I can’t even begin to imagine how scared, angry and exhausted you must feel, not only this week, but constantly.

Medical groups say police violence against black and brown Americans is just one of many physical and psychological factors that make racism a serious public health issue. And look, clearly the police are just one part of a much larger system of racial inequality, but for tonight we’re 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 GunGrandpa [Dirty Harry], and Cocaine Cops Who Fuck [Miami Vice], and Manic Bigot and His One Black Friend [Lethal Weapon]. 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 the 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 US history, law enforcement meant enforcing laws that were explicitly designed to subjugate black people. Some of America’s first law enforcement units were these 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 are 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 describe that exact time:

“The summer of 1967 it is known as the summer of love.”

Yeah, it is known as that, and that’s a pretty big disconnect isn’t it? And it honestly makes me slightly worried 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 onwards. Nixon pledged fealty to law and order and started the war on drugs, which Reagan later turbocharged, and by the time we got to the nineties a school of thought called broken windows, or zero tolerance policing had started to take root. Which help it if minor crimes are left unattended, it will lead to more serious crimes, therefore please have better crackdown 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 allow police officers who searched people at random.

At that policies 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 mounted to this just fucking bullshit, just under a different name. And that’s sort of aggressive policing was accompanied by constant calls to increase the number of police officers on the streets.

And let’s be clear here, Democrats were very much involved in that, from big city mayors, all the way on up to this guy:

[Bill Clinton] An initiative to put 100,000 more police officers on the street.

[Bill Clinton] More presence more prevention, a hundred thousand more police.

[Bill Clinton] 100,000 new police in communities of all sizes.

[Bill Clinton] We need to finish the job of putting a hundred thousand more police on our streets.

[Bill Clinton] Last fall Congress supported my plan to hire in addition to the hundred thousand community police we’ve already funded, fifty thousand more, concentrated in high crime neighborhoods.

Yeah, thanks very much for that Congress. 100,000 police officers isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Massively expanding a broken institution to score cheap political points, and if you can do that while playing the saxophone– well, that just gets even cooler.

And all the while, as we were continuing to boost funding for police and give them more authority, we were simultaneously slashing spending on key social services. That meant that in many communities the police were the only ones left to handle almost any issue that people had. Which is a real problem, as this former Dallas police chief readily admits.

[David Brown, fmr. Chief, Dallas Police] We’re asking cops to do too much in his country. We are. We just asking us to do too much. Every society of failure we put it off on the cops assault. Not enough mental health funding, get the cop handle it. Not enough drug addiction fund, let’s give it to the cop. Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem, let’s have a conversation which dogs.

You know what? He’s absolutely right. We are asking police to do far too much. They have a massive array of complicated duties that in many cases they just aren’t equipped to handle, making them very much the Jared Kushner of local officials, without of course the expression complexion and general demeanor of a haunted baby.

So while we should absolutely be angry at the police right now let’s also be angry at this series of choices that left them as essentially the only public resource in some communities.

And on top of all of that, we’ve made those bad choices even more dangerous in recent years by needlessly arming police to the fucking teeth. As we discussed six years ago now, we’ve issued the police literal military-grade equipment, some of which you’ve seen used to control and intimidate protesters this week. And it’s frankly not just a hardware that’s a problem here. Because a whole sub industry of police training has also cropped up to reinforce the message that cops are at war. And perhaps no one takes that idea further than this guy:

[Dave Grossman, from “Conditioned Response” (2017)] “Once you’ve made the decision to take a human life, you’re a transformed creature, you’re a predator. What does the predator do? They kill. Only a killer can hunt a killer. Are you emotionally, spiritually, psychologically prepared to snuff out a human life in defense of innocent lives? If you can’t make that decision, you need to find another job.”

Wow. You know, the problem with telling someone that they’re a predator is that it prime them to see the rest of the world as potential prey. And of course, cops who went through this training could wind up on edge. You wouldn’t train a barber by saying “Here is scissors, I snip like this and, oh yeah, this is how to puncture the carotid artery; now, you won’t need to use this 99% of the time, but if you don’t think you can make that decision, you need to find another job.”

Dave Grossman
Dave Grossman

Now, that grouse man is actually called Dave Grossman and he calls himself an expert in killology, a term that he invented and defines as “the scholarly study of the destructive act.” Just as sexology is the scholarly study of the procreative act, which– oh– And also, I’m pretty sure that the first lesson in sexology is never called sex the procreative act if you want anyone to pro-creatively act with you ever again.

And as batshit as Grossman is, he is by no means a fringe figure in police culture. He’s on the road giving trainings 200 days a year. The officer who shot Philando Castile had taken a class based on Grossman’s theories. And when, in the wake of that shooting, the Minneapolis Mayor banned officers from participating in warrior style training, the head of the police union there, Bob Kroll announced plans to defy that decision.

[Bob Kroll] If they deem that this training is in violation and they’re on their own time and they want to attend it, I’m gonna encourage officers to do it. I myself will be the first one to do it. If I would be disciplined, it would never be upheld.

I honestly don’t know what’s more alarming there, his determination to train police officers to be predators, his air of casual impunity, or the fact they has a sign in his office that says “let me drop everything and work on your problem,” which is always the office decor choice of a grade-a asshole. But especially if it’s someone who actual job is to work on other people’s problems.

And that confidence that he’s above punishment, actually brings us to the second point that we want to look at tonight, what the major obstacles to reform have been. Because one of the biggest issues is police unions. Even in cities where the mayor and police chief say all the right things, it’s important to know that the union can stop whatever they are proposing dead in its tracks. And unions can make it incredibly difficult to discipline officers even for egregious misconduct. Take what happened in Minneapolis with two officers who belonged to our friend Bob’s Union.

Two Minneapolis police officers are on paid leave for allegedly decorating a Christmas tree at the 4th precinct with a bunch of items that are viewed as racist. Bags of hot tacky chips, a cup from Popeye’s fried chicken, menthol cigarettes and cans of malt liquor among other things.

Holy shit, that is not just disgusting, it’s also arguably the most racist thing to happen to Christmas since people decided that this child’s born in the Middle East was white.

And not only does that incident raise serious questions about those officers, it also implicates the entire precinct, because they presumably thought that none of their co-workers would have a problem with what they did. And to his credit, when that story broke the mayor of Minneapolis announcing the officers responsible would be fired by the end of the day. Only to have to almost immediately walk that statement back saying that there was a process that they were required to go through by law. We actually checked, and despite the fact it’s now been a year and a half since that happened, one of those officers cases is still under arbitration.

And look, I get “union’s fighting for their workers,” that is what they do. But police unions take that to a dangerous extreme and negotiate language into contracts that makes removing a problem officer incredibly difficult. A Washington Post analysis of some of the nation’s largest police departments, found that they fired at least eighteen hundred and eighty-one officers for misconduct, but were forced to reinstate more than 450 of them. That’s almost 25 percent, after appeals required by their union contracts.

And police unions can also oppose even the most basic common-sense reform. A few years back, the Cleveland Police started being required to file a report every time they unholstered and pointed their gun at someone. And their union head was absolutely furious.

“I’m afraid that officers are going to be hesitant to pull their gun in an appropriate situation, because they don’t want to do the paperwork that’s gonna be associated with having to pull your gun.”

Okay, first, the idea that the risk of paperwork is a greater deterrent to police officers drawing their gun than the risk of killing someone, is legitimately terrifying. And it’s hard to take that glib dismissal from anyone, let alone someone who looks like a boiled mr. Potato Head, or an angry egg with a moustache. And I know those comparisons probably make him mad, but what’s he gonna do, shoot me? I don’t think so. Think of the paperwork involved.

And that attitude is particularly hard to take, considering that, just six months previously, Tamir Rice had been killed by a Cleveland police officer. And when faced with accountability that they don’t like, unions will often issue the ultimate threat to simply pull back and let crime rise.

For instance, listen to help ahead of New York City’s largest police union reacted where the judge recommended firing the officer whose chokehold led to the death of Eric Garner:

[Patrick Lynch, Police Benevolent Association] “The criminal advocates have gotten what they want. The police department is frozen. The police department can’t stop the killers. They can’t stop the criminals. They can’t effectively do their job. I’m sorry to say that we have to tell our police officers “take it a step slower.”

“Take it a step slower.” He just basically threatened in action against “the killers” as a bargaining chip. And besides that being morally reprehensible, it is a tool that most labor unions simply don’t have at their disposal. When the unions representing TV writers fight for their members, the worst thing that they can threaten the public with this few episodes of Bull, or The Blacklist, or this show, and that’s just not a compelling argument.

And that wasn’t even an empty threat, because, following that statement, policing did slow down in New York for a bit last year. There was an 11 percent drop in felony arrests and 18 percent drop in misdemeanor arrests, and a 32 percent drop in moving violations. But the thing is, if you lived in New York then, you probably don’t remember it as the time that the city devolved into chaos, because it didn’t. People still went about their lives, subways were still as delayed as they usually were, and rats still dragged slices of pizza upstairs to feed their rats families after a hard day of rats work. Making you wonder whether all those arrests were really in the interest of public safety at all.

Now, one good way to attempt to get reforms passed a unions resistance, is if the federal government steps in—which actually can. It has the power to investigate police departments for a pattern of civil rights violations and enter what is called “a consent decree,” in which the police department agrees to make institutional changes that are then overseen by a federal court. That can be a powerful tool to force change. In fact that paperwork requirement in Cleveland that pissed off this egg—that came from a consent decree. The problem is how or even whether the government does that depends on who is running it and right now it’s this wildly unsuccessful Bible salesman.

Trump holding a Bible
President Trump walked from the White House, crossed Lafayette Square, and stood in front of St. John’s Church holding a Bible moments after telling reporters he would deploy the military if state officials could not contain protests across the nation.

And he clearly has no interest in police reform. In George W. Bush’s first term, his Justice Department launched twelve such investigations into police departments. In Obama’s first term, it was 15. Trump’s DOJ has launched just a single investigation, and has entered zero consent decrees.

Meanwhile, Trump himself has made it pretty clear where he stands on the police use of force. He not only rolled back Obama’s restrictions on giving the police military equipment—just listen to what he said to an audience filled with law enforcement:

[Donald Trump] “Please, don’t be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put the hand, like don’t hit their head, and they’ve just killed somebody, don’t hit their head. I say you can take the hand away, okay?” [Laughs and applause]

Wow! You know, it’s bad enough when it’s just a bunch of random sheepheads cheering on Trump’s lawless rhetoric, it’s a lot more alarming when that applause is coming from the people whose main job is to see lawlessness and stop it.

So if the union’s won’t act and the federal government won’t act, what else can you do as a civilian to get accountability if the police violated your rights? Well, you could try and sue the city or the individual officer in question. And in high-profile cases, especially, they can be incentivized to settle for astonishing amounts. In fact, over a period of five years, the ten cities with the largest police departments paid out a billion dollars in settlements and court judgments.

And listen, I’m no “comptroller”—believe me, I wish I were, a hard-to-explain, lethally boring elected accountant, whose title inexplicably took a real word and then stuck and in the middle of it—come on, that’s my dream jump. But even I can tell you, if you’re spending a billion dollars on misconduct settlements, you might wanna seriously examine what conduct looks like. And if a city doesn’t feel that it has to settle with you, you’re in real trouble, because civil suits against cops are nearly impossible to win.

Just listen to a defense attorney explain one reason that it was gonna be difficult for Michael Brown‘s family to sue the Ferguson officer who killed him.

[Mark Schamel, Defense Attorney] Civilly? Sure, they could go after him civilly. The problem is he has qualified immunity. He’s gonna say that “I was acting within a scope of my employment, this is what I was doing.”

Yeah, and he is right about that. Police officers are often protective in consequences due to something called “qualified immunity,” which sounds like something you get from a horrifying cheatcode in Grand Theft Auto—”Well, guess what, I turned on qualified immunity and now my car runs on prostitutes.”

But it’s actually worth taking a moment to talk about that term. Very basically, “qualified immunity” means that a public official is immune from lawsuits, unless their exact conduct has already been ruled unconstitutional in a previous case. And I do mean “exact” because small, tiny variations can result in the case being thrown out—this happens all the time. For instance, one case was thrown out because of the difference between unleashing a police dog to bite a motionless suspect in a bushy ravine and unleasing a police dog to bite a compliant suspect in a canal in the woods—which I totally get, those are two completely different kinds of outdoor holes. And then there was this case:

[Kiro 7 News] A federal appeals court has ruled Seattle police used excessive force when they tasered a pregnant woman during a traffic stop in 2004. She was shocked three times with a stun gun for refusing to sign a speeding ticket. Although the ruling was in Brooks’ favor, the officer who fired the taser was given immunity because the law on stun gun use was not clear yet.

That is absolutely ridiculous. The method the officer used to assault that woman clearly shouldn’t matter. It’s like if Jeffrey Dahmer was declared innocent because he cooked his victims in an instant pot. The crime is the killing, not what fucking appliance he used.

Now, the good news is there is a chance that the Supreme Court will soon decide to reconsider “qualified immunity.” There’s actually a bill in Congress right now to abolish it, although, even if it passes, it may have to wait for a new president to sign it, and we may not get one of those, anywhere from the next four years to never.

But, while ending qualified immunity would be great, that alone isn’t gonna be nearly enough, and that brings us to our final point here: what do we do now?

There are a lot of suggestions to look at. Unfortunately some prominent Democrats have been spitballing ideas that are embarrassingly small, and perhaps no more ridiculous than this:

[Joe Biden on C-Span] “And the idea that instead of standing there and teaching a cop when there’s an unarmed person coming at them with a knife or something to shoot them in the leg instead of the heart is a very different thing. There’s a lot of different things that can change.”

Wow. That lack of imagination is not particularly inspiring, but also not particularly surprising coming from Joe Biden, who is truly the “getting shot in the leg instead of the heart” candidate right now. Well, that’s obviously absurd, the instinct that Biden just displayed there, that the key question is not if an officer should shoot someone, but where, he’s shared by many politicians. In New York Bill de Blasio has balked at making it illegal for police to use choke holds, despite the fact that a chokehold is precisely what led to the death of Eric Garner.

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. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t still try them, but in many cases you’re 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 10 years ago was pleased 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 relate 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, Fox News] “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 are not gonna be any rapes on your street. But what about everyone else? What’s gonna happen to them?

OK, first of all, in all sincerity, Tucker, you seem nervous. This is a difficult moment and I really hope that you’re taking time for yourself, and 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. The concept is that the role of the police can then significantly shrink, because they are not responding to the homeless, or to mental health calls, or arresting children in schools. Or really any other situation where the best solution is not someone showing up with a gun. That is the idea behind defund the police, if you actually listen to it. Which suggests that Tucker Carlson has the exact level of understanding about the black lives matter movement that you would expect from a man who always looks like he just saw his first black Barbie and feels confused, but mostly scared.

And look, as we know, many police will likely resist any redistribution, hard. Police unions often paint themselves as essential and everything else as, somehow, frivolous. In fact, remember Bob Kroll? Well, when Minneapolis asked his Union to accept a pay freeze due to Covid-19—here is how he reacted:

[Lt.Bob Kroll, President, Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, on Stim Radio, April 29, 2020] “The first thing we said was OK, let’s see the budget, let’s see the city budget. And guys, they’re pissing away millions and millions of dollars to projects. Like, you know, they’re given $15,000 a year to the transgender coordinator for the City.”

All right, so let’s set aside the risks of violence against transgender people, particularly trans women of color, and instead consider that the budget for the Minneapolis Police Department is 193 million dollars, meaning that 15,000 amounts to 0.008 percent of their annual budget. And if that’s pissing money away, the city should really see a fucking urologist.

But guys like Bob, rolling his eyes at anything transgender related, is exactly why it is time for our conversation to go beyond “how should the police do their jobs” to “what really do we want the role of the police to be.”

And too many still seem to think that this is an issue of a few bad actors. In fact, just listen to one officer unsuccessfully try to make that argument to some protesters just this week:

[Police officer] One bad hamburger at McDonald’s doesn’t make all McDonald’s bad.

[Man in the crowd] What the fuck does that mean?!?

Yeah, that protester’s right, what the fuck does that mean? Because one hamburger should mean a health inspection a few bad hamburgers might mean that McDonald’s getting shut down. And bad hamburgers regularly killing people on the street would mean that we’ve maybe all consider going fucking vegan.

But 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 it with one that takes into account the needs of the people that it actually serves. And this is gonna 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 that the rest of us joined to make sure that 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.

After the unrest, in the late 60s, a commission was set up to investigate and issue advice. Many of its conclusions resemble ideas like a police demilitarization and broad reinvestment in marginalized communities, that are still being pushed today. That testify before that commission was the social scientist Kenneth Clark. And he made this observation which remains depressingly true. He said:

“I read the report of the 1919 riot in Chicago, and it is as if I were reading the report of the investigating committee of the Harlem riot of 1935, the report of the investigating committee of the Harlem riot of 1943, the report of the McCone Commission on the Watts riot of 1965. I must again in candor say to you… it is a kind of Alice in Wonderland with the same moving picture reshown over and over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations, and the same inaction.”

We’re in the same shit now that we’re in back then. And if you’re not directly impacted by it, it is tempting to look for a reason to feel better about the world, to look at some 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. To do anything less would be absolutely unforgivable.

And actually to that point, there’s one person I saw this week whose words have been echoing around my head, and you’ve been listening to me talk for a while. So now I’m gonna let her have the last word tonight:

[Kimberly Latrice Jones] So when they say “Why do you burn down the community? Why do you burn down your own neighborhood?” It’s not ours. We don’t own anything. We don’t own anything. There is– Trevor Noah said it so beautifully last night, there’s a social contract that we all have, that if you steal or if I steal then the person who is the authority comes in and they fix the situation. But the person who fixes the situation is killing us. So the social contract is broken. And if the social contract is broken why the fuck do I give a shit about burning the fucking Football Hall of Fame, about burning a fucking Target. You broke the contract when you killed us in the streets and didn’t give a fuck. You broke the contract when for 400 years, we played your game and built your wealth. You broke the contract when we built our wealth again on our own by our bootstraps in Tulsa and you dropped bombs on us, when we built it in Rosewood and you came in and you slaughtered us. You broke the contract. So fuck your Target, fuck your Hall of Fame. As far as I’m concerned, they could burn this bitch to the ground, and it still wouldn’t be enough. And they are lucky that what black people are looking for is equality and not revenge.

That’s our show, thanks for watching. Good night.


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