Why You Should Be Following The Daniel Holtzclaw Trial
Given the amount of attention the Black Lives Matter movement has brought to the issue of police brutality in communities of color, it’s somewhat surprising that the trial of Daniel Holtzclaw hasn’t garnered more mainstream media attention. Holtzclaw is a former police officer accused of raping 13 Black women in their 40s-50s in and around Oklahoma City. He allegedly used his badge and access to police records to specifically target women who were poor, Black and had been in trouble with the law, because those factors made them less likely to be believed, and then threatening them with jail time or worse if they didn’t submit to the assault and keep it to themselves. Holtzclaw’s disgusting strategy had its intended effect, with most of the women — who had drug, prostitution or petty crime records — staying quiet about the trauma they endured, knowing Holtzclaw knew where they lived and had proven himself to be violent.
One of the 13 victims did go to the authorities in early 2014, claiming that a police officer matching Holtzclaw’s description had assaulted her. But nothing was done. It wasn’t until a second alleged victim, this time an older Black woman with a spotless, “respectable” record, went to the police immediately following the assault that the police started to take the accusations seriously. By the end of their investigation, 13 Black women in total had accused Holtzclaw of rape. Now his fate and their quest for justice lies in the hands of an all-white, mostly-male jury, the very group of people who are most likely to dismiss Black women’s allegations of rape, especially when the accused is a member of law enforcement. In other words, Holtzclaw is still relying on his initial strategy to help him get off scot free.
“With that jury the defense has already done half their job,” a lawyer, who wished to be anonymous, told NBC’s Jason Johnson. Johnson went on to assert that “legal research shows that sexual assault convictions, especially in the cases of white men against black women are next to non existent in America’s legal system.”
When Holtzclaw’s third accuser took the stand this week to bravely testify about what she alleges he did to her, she was direct about why she didn’t go to the police.
“I didn’t think anyone would believe me,” she said. “I’m a black female.”
“These are the women that even among women, we say disparaging things. They’re not as valued,” Grace Franklin, a co-founder of the group OKC Artists For Justice, which has been working hard to keep this story in the news, told the BBC. “He knew people would have a hard time believing them.”
The fact that the alleged victims in this case are poor Black women is also why this case has not received the level of attention from the media and the public that other police brutality or rape cases have seen, though it’s worth noting that none of those cases get the attention they deserve. But this is case in which police violence against POC and rape intersect, and Black women are too often told to put the larger movements for racial and gender equality ahead of their own experiences. As Johnson put it:
All too often Black women are told to shush or dismiss their experience for the sake of ‘allies’ or the movement. White feminists tell black women to tone down the black stuff. Black men tell Black women to tone down the ‘women’ stuff. And white men, even progressive ones, are so busy mansplaining and caping they never hear black women to begin with.
Many of these women are also without much family, and without that support or larger media attention, the courtroom has been half empty. For awhile there, it looked like this trial would be relatively low profile. When it was revealed that the jury selected for Holtzclaw’s trial was all white and mostly male, this case finally started to get more attention. What should have been a slam dunk case seems suddenly in peril, because despite the volume of evidence and the fact that Holtzclaw doesn’t even have the support of the police department and union, it only takes one juror to set this serial rapist free. One white man or woman who, as Johnson succinctly put it, “can’t or won’t put the pain and experience of a black woman above the privilege and authority of a white man with a gun and a badge.”