WATCH: John Oliver Obliterates the “Bad Apples” Excuse in Epic Rant on Police in America
TDC Note – The argument that I have long made is this – if the “good cops” turned in the bad cops wouldn’t the problem of killer cops, crazy cops and gangs in blue take care of itself? So, where are the “good cops” that should be arresting these gang members in blue uniforms?
On Sunday’s edition of Last Week Tonight, discussing “Police Accountability,” John Oliver eviscerates the oft-touted argument police brutality, violence, misconduct, and excessive force can be chalked up to a “few bad apples” — instead of the institution of policing, itself.
Sprinkling customary wit throughout, Oliver aptly explains why the ‘bad apple’ explanation not only dismisses the very real dearth of accountability amid increasingly inexplicable uses of excessive force, but presents — considering the entirety of the idiom — a glaring logical fallacy.
“The trust between police and the communities they serve is clearly a cornerstone of civilized society — unfortunately, that trust has been rocked following a series of controversial police shootings, from Alton Sterling to Philando Castile, to Tamir Rice to so many others I literally cannot mention them all.”
To emphasize plainly the subject of the segment, Oliver cuts to snippets of interviews in which people call for police to be held accountable for violent and egregious misconduct — most particularly, murder.
Police tend to counter with, if not endlessly whine about, the dangers of their occupation, and how critics can’t grasp that the immediacy of decision-making can be a life-or-death call — so officers should be granted leniency not given to the general public.
Cops displaying a pattern of misconduct, thus, should be disciplined appropriately — but, police frequently argue, as Oliver notes, “that what they have is less an institutional problem than an individual one.”
A series of clips from pro-police advocates and current and former officers blaming these “bad apples” for the whole of the police brutality epidemic shows how often that narrative is hammered into the American psyche.
However, Oliver explains, “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 […]
“Also, you can’t claim there’s just a few bad apples when no one knows exactly how many there are. There are nearly 18,000 different police departments in America, and they are not great about reporting or sharing data. In fact, even some surprisingly basic questions are hard to answer, as the head of the FBI admits.”
FBI Director James Comey, the episode shows, previously said, “We can’t have an informed discussion because we don’t have data. People have data about who went to a movie last weekend or how many books were sold or how many cases of the flu walked into an emergency room, and I cannot tell you how many people were shot by police in the United States last month, last year, or anything about the demographics.”
Though not the crux of the issue, the lack of strict national requirements for reporting police killings and violent incidents undermines any attempt to effect meaningful reform — if you don’t know how many people were killed or brutalized, under what circumstances, and other details, it would be impossible to determine the efficacy of any solutions.
In response to absent national law enforcement data, a number of organizations, advocates, and media outlets — killedbypolice.net, the Guardian’s The Counted, and the Washington Post’s Fatal Force, for example — have tried to compile data or lists of victims through exhaustive research and voluntary public submissions. But their vastly different numbers only serve as rough guidelines, while highlighting further the enormity of the issue.
As an example of these unofficial data aggregators, Oliver discusses research undertaken by Philip Stinson, who, in 2005, set up 48 different Google searches to get a handle on killings by police in the United States. Stinson and researchers from Bowling Green State University indeed found, as The Free Thought Project reported in June, “on average, three law enforcement officers are arrested each day — around 1,100 cops every year — and, more pointedly, this is not the case of a few rotten apples.”
“[P]olice crimes are not uncommon,” Stinson, lead author for “Police Integrity Lost: A Study of Law Enforcement Officers Arrested,” wrote. And “only a small number of officers will ever be arrested for a criminal offense … our data directly contradicts some of the prevailing assumptions and the proposition that only a small group of rotten apples perpetrate the vast majority of police crimes.”