Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Oliver smashes through the racially biased brutality of armed police raids

John Oliver
John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

Just a note as we near a terrible landmark of police injustice that the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor in her own home while she slept are still at large. As John Oliver noted in his typically searing Sunday Last Week Tonight main story (although he does have time to make fun of Cop Rock), that’s pretty standard when it comes to the outcome of police raids in America, even when someone dies as a result of some truly egregious police misconduct or plain old dumbfuckery. (Content warning for some seriously terrifying and infuriating surveillance footage to come.)

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You know, like the time Chicago police stormed an innocent social worker’s house, handcuffed the naked woman while they searched the wrong address they’d just battered into, and then scolded her for yelling at them. Or when, cops laughingly asked a still handcuffed and completely innocent guy if they could replay the home surveillance camera footage of them Rambo-exploding his door. Or when, again in Chicago, cops commando-raided a family’s home and held children at gunpoint—while the suspect they were there to arrest was actually serving time in prison. Or when police raided a family’s home in the middle of the night, kicking off the breach by tossing a flash bang grenade (ignition temperature 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit or so) into a sleeping 2-year-olds crib.

Battle lines get drawn whenever police misconduct is brought up, but, as Oliver noted, battle lines are already in place on the streets, homes, and cribs of America, and it’s a war being fought on wildly disproportionate terms. Look, it’s no Chicagoan’s fault if their all-white neighborhoods are called things like “Museum Campus” and “Magnificent Mile,” but, as Oliver points out, when Chicago PD raids target other, predominantly Black and Latino communities of your neighbors almost exclusively with dangerous, often deadly force, well, you have to examine your privilege. And your luck.

So that’s what Oliver did in a particularly harrowing extended segment on Sunday. (Again, lots and lots of night vision footage of terrified children and burly law enforcement officers pointing assault rifles.) Oliver, as is his way, broke down the issues in how warrants are granted (disproportionately according to race), how probable cause is vetted by judges (hardly at all), how gung-ho militarized American policing has become (basically a 1980s Cannon Films action movie level), and what consequences are doled out to cops who terrorize, injure, or even kill completely innocent people in botched raids (c’mon). Oliver did some of his own outraged shouting at the cops after showing one such raid where a kitted out tactical team bumbled their way through a quiet rural neighborhood, got lost, passed by the house they were looking for, fired off various ordinance seemingly at random, and finally broke down the door of the wrong house. (The elderly Black man who lived there survived, thankfully, despite his heart ailments being just the sort of thing that don’t respond well to armed paramilitary forces smashing through your home.)

As to solutions, Oliver had a few, but police—and those people who slapped color-coded Punisher stickers on their cars in response to Black Lives Matter protests against exactly this kind of racially biased police violence—aren’t going to like it. Maybe, crazily, shift the balance between conflict resolution training and the sort of gorily elaborate “action movie cosplay” he shows one department receiving. (There’s a whole fake cult compound set, complete with ritualized baby-murdering station and everything.) But, most importantly, what about simply stopping drug raids, which are the tactics most high-risk, least-motivated (confidential informants lie, a lot), and most likely to leave a civilian or police officer dead. After all, Oliver quoted the former head of the National Tactical Officers Association said exactly that. But then all those military grade toys American police departments have purchased or straight-up been given in the farcically biased and wrong-headed “war on drugs” wouldn’t get played with so often.