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What ‘defund the police’ means to John Oliver

John Oliver, host of HBO's "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver."
John Oliver, host of HBO's "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver."Lloyd Bishop/Associated Press

John Oliver devoted Sunday’s entire episode of “Last Week Tonight” to the ongoing protests against police brutality, diving into one of the rallying cries of the demonstrations: defund the police.

“Defund the police” doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of all law enforcement, the host said. Instead, it’s about refocusing budgets in order to make police intervention less necessary, he said. In support of this idea, Oliver played a clip of a former Dallas police chief who said that police are often asked to solve problems like drug addiction, mental health, and even stray dogs because funding in other departments has been slashed over the course of decades.

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“Defunding the police absolutely doesn’t mean we eliminate all cops and succumb to ‘;The Purge,’ ” Oliver said. “Instead, it’s about moving away from a narrow conception of public safety that relies on policing and punishment and investing in a community’s actual safety net — things like stable housing, mental health services, and community organization.”

“The concept is the role of the police can significantly shrink because they’re not responding to the homeless, or to mental health calls, or arresting children in schools, or other situations where the best solution isn’t someone showing up with a gun,” Oliver continued. “This clearly isn’t about individual officers, it’s about a structure built on systemic racism, that this country created intentionally and now needs to dismantle intentionally and replace with one that takes into account the needs of the people it actually serves, and this is going to take sustained pressure and attention over a long period of time from all of us.”