Bill Maher Explores Policing on This Week’s “Real Time”

Bill Maher started off Friday’s episode of Real Time in a state of anticipation — both for the looming 4/20 and for the recently-announced withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. “Twenty years?” Maher quipped. “Matt Gaetz’s girlfriends weren’t even born when this war started.” The mention of Gaetz prompted Maher to expound on a theory of “Republican orgies,” which included a couple of digs at Republicans claiming ballot fraud. Also in the mix in his opening monologue? Hunter Biden, Lindsey Graham and deadly shootings.

The episode’s first guest was Sharon Osbourne, who recently left The Talk. “See? They still love you,” Maher said to Osbourne as she entered to sustained applause. Maher summarized the events that led to Osbourne’s departure from The Talk, and offered his own summary of the questions it raised: “Unless you agree with every person of color, then you’re a racist? That seems insane.” A pair of white people discussing what is or is not racist made for a strange moment, but it’s not the first time this has happened this season.

Maher did offer a relatively sympathetic take on Meghan Markle’s issues with the royal family, agreeing that racism likely played a part, but also arguing that the family is infamous for being emotionally remote. The rest of their conversation covered the history of The Talk, Osbourne’s friendship with Piers Morgan and her thoughts on the book White Fragility. (For the record, she agrees with parts of it and disagrees with others.)

The evening’s panel was comprised of guests with expertise in issues that are currently in the forefront of American political debate: political scientist and television host Ian Bremmer and Rosa Brooks, author of Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City.

Brooks’s book chronicles her decision, in 2015, to become a reserve police officer — and explores what she learned about policing from the experience. “Here’s a dirty little secret about cops — they don’t really get much training in how to use their weapons,” she said. She then expounded upon that, leading to a chilling conclusion. “We’ve got a lot of people walking around with lethal weapons who don’t really know what they’re doing,” she said. Here, the stunned silence of what had until that point been a vocal audience was eminently noticeable.

Brooks pulled few punches when criticizing the system of policing, noting that even well-intentioned police are “working in a system that, even if you’re a good cop, you’re going to screw people’s lives up.”

Maher criticized the tendency among police to overthink the danger of their jobs — which, he argues, has led many to respond to any perceived problem by “emptying their clips” — and Brooks agreed. She noted that police hear stories of cops being killed constantly, giving them a sense that their job is more dangerous than it is.

“If all you hear, over and over, is that there’s no such thing as a routine call and any situation can turn lethal in a millisecond, then you go into all of your interactions primed to think that everyone’s a threat,” Brooks said.

Bremmer took a global view, pointing out that in other countries around the world with police forces, the kinds of police shootings seen in the United States aren’t present. “Blue Lives Matter has become a political litmus test for which country in the United States you’re a part of,” he said.

From there, the conversation took a more international turn, including a discussion of the planned American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the United States’ relationship with China. Bremmer and Maher clashed on a few points, including economic data from China and questions of American infrastructure.

For this week’s New Rules segment, Maher speculated about Domino’s announcing delivery drones, and the issues that might arise from them. “To stoners, that’s not a robot — it’s a mechanical bull that comes with snacks,” he said. Also discussed? Billboards about distracted driving that are themselves distracting; also, sex robots. The bulk of the segment took on COVID-19 — specifically, the ways elements of medical, political and media institutions overstated certain dangers from the pandemic. It concluded with Maher returning to a recurring topic — criticizing the overweight. It was a familiar refrain in an episode that bridged old and new areas of interest for Maher. We’ll see what next week has in store.

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