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PopWrapped | Politics

Last Week Tonight Takes On Police Accountability

Ashley Perna | PopWrapped Author

Ashley Perna

Updated 10/6/2016 12:55pm
Last Week Tonight Takes On Police Accountability | Police Accountability
Media Courtesy of HBO

The staff at Last Week Tonight had quite a week to cover in their most recent episode, but they still managed to do the week justice. They began by discussing Donald Trump, but, after the week Trump had, one can hardly blame him. After covering what is arguably the worst week in Trump's campaign, the show moved on to discuss the incredibly important and increasingly relevant issue of police accountability.

The show began by discussing the upcoming election, or "what did I do to deserve this? I always tried to be a good person is this because I stole candy once in 4th grade please stop punishing us 2016". To be fair, I'm a Canadian, and even I'm starting to see the election that way. Host John Oliver kicked the segment off by discussing Trump's performance in the debates held last week, or, as Oliver put it, Trump's "incoherent jumble of sniffles and nonsense, like a racist toddler coming out of dental surgery". While the entire debate was almost unbelievable, there was one moment that stood out above all the rest: the moment where Donald Trump asserted that his best quality was his temperament.

The week that followed illustrated exactly what Trump's definition of a winning temperament really is -- a temperament that allows him to insist he won despite "demonstrable evidence" to the contrary. Trump continuously cited online polls as evidence of his victory -- but it is worth pointing out that these polls are so suspicious and susceptible to tampering that even FOX News finds that online polls "do not meet our editorial standards". FOX News!

Oliver, then, highlighted the one interesting aspect of the debate that Trump seemingly could not let go of: former Miss Universe Alicia Machado. Admittedly, Trump did make a few good points early on and should have spent the rest of the week focusing on those successes, rather than his subsequent blunders. Instead, he choose to bring up his own misogyny in an interview with FOX News the next day and wound up hate-tweeting at 3am. To be clear, "that is a candidate for President of the United States urging America to check out a sex tape". These behaviours aren't exactly presidential.

The main segment dealt with police -- specifically, police accountability. Oliver opened the segment by acknowledging how difficult police officers have it on the job, illustrating this point by showing a pretty hilarious traffic stop from 2010. Still, the more trying and difficult moments of a police officer's job shouldn't prevent them from being accountable for their own actions. There is no doubt that being a police officer is an incredibly difficult and challenging job, but, as Oliver mentions, that is all the more reason to hold them to a higher standard.

One important cornerstone to any functioning civil society is a foundation of trust between the police and the community they serve. As Oliver pointed out, this foundation has been shaken by the rash of police shootings -- with victims too numerous to mention in a half hour show. The one thing almost any protestor has in common with one another is the desire to simply have the police be held accountable for their actions while on the job.

Oliver tackled the "bad apple" excuse that is so commonly heard following police shootings. Their supporters will say that it isn't a systemic issues as much as a "bad apple" issue. The problem is that bad apples spoil things like trust quickly. Oliver used Snow White to illustrate his point: she may not have been too worried about apples before, but you can be pretty confident that she's going to think twice about accepting fruit from elderly women again. Bad apples can erode trust and ruin a force's solid reputation fast.

The problem with the "bad apple" defence is that the system is set up to protect those bad apples to enforce racist policies. As Oliver pointed out, these types of policies have been discussed time and time again on the show. In addition, the "bad apple" excuse ignores the fact that there are no reliable statistics on police shootings available. We literally don't know how many bad apples there are.

Scarily enough, the only good numbers available on police shootings are from a researcher who gathered his date by using various Google alerts set up in 2005. Using his numbers, only 77 officers have been charged in connection with a shooting since 2005 out of thousands of police shootings that were reported during that time period. Of those 77, only 26 were even convicted. Once again, Oliver stressed how there are justified police shootings and that there are more good police officers serving than bad ones. The numbers, unfortunately, don't inspire much confidence.

One reason for the low rate of charges being pressed against officers involved in shootings is that the first line of investigation often happens to be comprised of the officer's peers. Even the Department of Justice has found repeated flaws in this method of investigation, with many jurisdictions admitting that they "intentionally cast an officer in the best possible light" if use of deadly force is involved.

In other cases, officers who report their colleagues for use of excessive force may find themselves in dangerous situations. One officer was left without backup and was forced to resign after reporting some of his fellow officers for use of excessive force while on the job.

Another factor contributing to a lack of police accountability is the ease with which officers seem to be able to escape difficult situations. Some officers simply bounce around between jurisdictions to escape any charges of unauthorized use of deadly force, while others are able to find ways to scrub their records clean of any compromising past incidents.

The segment's thesis was that the "bad apples" excuse needs to go, or it needs to be taken much more seriously. The policies -- or lack of policies -- that exist have created an environment where it is extremely possible for a few good apples to spoil the bunch. The only way to fight back is for the bunch to be sure that those few bad apples are held accountable for their bad actions.

The show ended by following up on their recent segment regarding Wells Fargo and the unethical position they have found themselves in. As it turns out, years ago, they were putting out ethics videos -- ones that Oliver suggested company executives had largely ignored. In a hilarious twist of fate, one of the brilliant Last Week Tonight writers happened to star in a Wells Fargo ethics tape many years ago and welcomed the chance to be featured in yet another ethics video -- this one geared more toward their senior management.

Best Lines:

"...which is shocking because I always thought that FOX News' standards were that 'all ladies must be 8s or above' and 'try not to say the N-word'".

"Why does he care where she found her? Is he just flummoxed because it doesn't come from any of his three news sources: namely, Breitbart, dudes hanging out at golf club house bars, and the racist minotaur that talks to him during the one hour that he sleeps every night?"

"Do me a favour, right now. Look up into the sky, higher, no, higher still. Do you see that? Way up there? Way up above the clouds? That's rock bottom. And we are currently way down here."

"Donald Trump really should have been ready for Monday night, because he's been losing televised debates to women for twenty years now."

"Trump treats his statements like they're Pokemon. They're imaginary things he nurtures and evolves and eventually uses to fight with strangers."

"It seems you [Donald Trump] have a choice. Either admit that unscientific polling is bullshit. Or that your views on women's bodies are horrifying. I await whatever decision you make at 3am tonight on Twitter."

"It's not like he needed to say Ron Paul 2012. It was pretty implicit in everything he had said up until that point, but it is pretty nice to have it confirmed."

"Nothing in Hillary's life has been more awkward than that. And think about what a high bar that is."

You can watch the segment on police accountability below. The entire episode is available on HBO Go and HBO Now. Last Week Tonight will return next week at 11:00 pm on HBO.

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