The so-called “John Oliver effect” might be in full swing thanks to California’s recent decision on civil forfeiture, but that doesn’t mean the Last Week Tonight host will be stopping his weekly deep dives anytime soon. Especially since the recent shooting deaths of Keith Scott and Terrence Sterling have kept the issue of police brutality in the national spotlight — despite massive protest movements, counter-protests, and numerous efforts to improve police performance and public safety. Hence why Oliver tackled the related topic of police accountability on Sunday night’s episode.
He was especially interested in accountability since, per recent examples like the Freddie Gray trials in Baltimore and Texas authorities settling with Sandra Bland’s family, officers aren’t always held to appropriately high standards before, during, and after such incidents. Per the usual argument offered by talking heads on cable news, it’s all just because of “a few bad apples”:
“That is a weirdly blase attitude because ‘bad apples’ can erode trust fast… And that argument, ‘It’s just a few bad apples,’ has some real problems. For a start, it doesn’t address bad laws and policies that good officers are made to enforce, which we’ve touched on multiple times before. Criminal justice is kind of our show’s signature bit. It is to us what assessing the shape of your poop is to Dr. Oz.”
“Also,” Oliver continues, “you can’t claim there’s just a few bad apples when no one knows exactly how many there are.”
As the comedian cum pseudo-journalist notes, the country’s nearly 18,000 police departments traditionally haven’t kept good records on incidents involving excessive force. Whether this is by accident, purpose, or both remains to be seen. However, as Oliver adds, record keeping on the matter has improved thanks to research by Bowling Green State University professor Philip M. Stinson, whose work fueled and inspired the Washington Post‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into police brutality