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This week on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver shreds the common argument that there are just a few bad apples in law enforcement by taking a closer look at what statistics we have so far, as well as the inner-workings of police departments themselves. Although none of the information supplied by Oliver will come as a surprise, the magnitude of the situation is bound to piss you off when looked at it in context.
FBI Director, James Comey, admits there is no data being recorded by the government for the number of police killings, or resulting prosecutions (if any), or any other demographics, for that matter. The best numbers for this data came from associate professor of criminal justice, Philip Stinson, who according to Oliver, has accumulated a decade’s worth of data after setting up 48 Google Alerts in 2005.
According to his stats, out of the literally thousands of fatalities caused at the hands of police officers since 2005, only 77 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter, and only 26 of them were actually convicted. In taking a closer look at the possible reasons for this, Oliver first brings attention to the fact these officers are being investigated by their colleagues, which directly creates a conflict of interest.
For example, the Cleveland Police Department admitted to the Department of Justice that investigators “… intentionally cast an officer in the best light possible when investigating the officer’s use of deadly force.” At the same time, officers who step forward to report abuses by colleagues are then targeted by the rest of the department as “rats.”
The efforts on behalf of police departments to cover their tracks is even embedded in their state laws and union contracts. Departments in many jurisdictions are allowed to destroy an officer’s disciplinary records, meaning their misconduct can’t be tracked if they switch to a new department, and switching departments is extremely common to avoid facing disciplinary actions. One police chief in Arizona went as far as to make an internal video actually encouraging other departments to “purge their files” of records of officer misconduct.
We’ve officially reached the point in the U.S. that teenagers need to take classes in school, teaching them how to safely handle (or a more appropriate word might be “survive”) police encounters, and as Oliver put it: the fact that we’ve had to resort to this makes the argument that there are only a “few bad apples” within law enforcement, rather weak. As Oliver states:
The phrase isn’t “it’s just a few bad apples, don’t worry about it.” The phrase is “a few bad apples spoil the barrel,” and we currently have a system which is set up to ignore bad apples, destroy bad apples records, persecute good apples for speaking up, and shuffle dangerous, emotionally unstable apples around to the point that children have to attend fucking apple classes. You cannot look at our current situation and claim that anybody likes them apples.”
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