Last Week Tonight: John Oliver on police problems and solutions

John Oliver (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for The Bob Woodruff Foundation)
John Oliver (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for The Bob Woodruff Foundation) /

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver examined the history of problematic policing

By nature of its schedule, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver may be the last late night television show to weigh in on the protests over police brutality and racial equality. With that extra time, Last Week Tonight put together an insightful and thought-provoking piece on police.

Prior to last week’s show focused on mail-in voting, John Oliver tweeted that remote episodes were filmed on Saturday mornings. This meant that he couldn’t address the escalating tension in Washington, D.C. and across the country as more and more demonstrations took place.

In the meantime, late night shows such as Jimmy Kimmel Live!Late Night with Seth Meyers, and Conan all shared their thoughts on George Floyd’s death, the protests, and the government response through monologues and guest interviews.

Oliver covered these topics and more on Sunday night. Particular attention was given to the interconnected histories of policing and white supremacy, offering a different perspective than other coverage seen around television.

Last Week Tonight offered ideas on how to better achieve justice for all

John Oliver starts by recapping all the major points that other late night shows were able to cover nightly. The use of military tactics by police, the support around the world, and President Donald Trump’s bunker visit and photo-op all get a mention and joke from the Last Week Tonight host.

But rather than stay with those stories, Oliver chooses to focus on the bigger issue at hand: police brutality. He sets out to answer three questions on how we got to where we are now, what roadblocks preventing change, and how we can move forward. It was an ambitious goal for a 30-minute late night television segment but Last Week Tonight ‘s writers have a track record of delivering succinct, poignant, and entertaining pieces.

In answering these questions, Oliver addresses several topics that Last Week Tonight has covered in the past. Police militarization, police accountability, and unions all come up during the discussion. It only further proves Oliver’s point that we are by no means experience new problems but instead need new solutions.

One such solution involves rethinking the entire system of police, says Oliver. Another is defunding the police. He tries to bring nuance to debates over this issue by arguing against a narrow conception of public safety and investing more in social services, therefore significantly reducing the role of the police.

Oliver always appears invested in whatever topic he is discussing on Last Week Tonight. But the closing minutes of this segment shows a more passionate Oliver who cannot overstate the challenge of the moment. It is telling that Oliver ends by giving the spotlight to a woman summing up the situation far better than he could with the shot returning to a visibly emotional Oliver.

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What did you think of this segment from John Oliver? Share your thoughts in the comment section. Keep checking Last Night On for more from Last Week Tonight and the rest of late night television.