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John Oliver looks at Ferguson and police militarization

Why did a police dept. in Keene, N.H., need an armored personnel carrier? A pumpkin fest?
John Oliver takes on the militarization of U.S. police forces

It was a long week last week, and depending on your interests you were distracted by Robin Williams' death, Lauren Bacall's death, the worsening Ebola crisis in Africa, America's return to Iraq, the brewing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the cease-fire between Israel and Gaza or the ALS ice bucket challenge. But one story that demands attention is what is happening on the streets of Ferguson, Mo. And while there's a lot, John Oliver provided a decent primer in 15 minutes on "Last Week Tonight" Sunday.

As is his usual method, Oliver devoted the second half of his show to diving deep into the complicated explanation of a story that, on the surface, appears bereft of any obvious comedic value. How does one go about mining a story about racial tensions and the increasingly violent conflicts on the streets of Ferguson for laughs?

Smartly, Oliver used Ferguson as a gateway into a whole other topic: the use of military-grade equipment by local police forces around the country. It's not just Missouri. Police as far away as New Hampshire and Michigan have received vehicles more appropriate to the streets of a war-torn city than Main Street U.S.A.

According to NBC News, the Department of Defense has transferred $4.3 billion in military equipment to local police since 1996.

So just what do police in, say, Keene, N.H., need with a BearCat armored personnel carrier? They need to protect, among other things, the town's annual Pumpkin Festival from the unpredictable and unforeseen threat of terrorists.

"Good luck easily outmaneuvering that [BearCat], teenagers with baseball bats," Oliver said.

The rest of Oliver's report, including a clip of two Michigan dudes totally blown away by the military stuff belonging to the sheriff's department of Saginaw County can be seen above.

Twitter: @patrickkevinday

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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