Convicted serial rapist, Daniel Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma City police officer, is scheduled to be sentenced on January 21, 2016. Holtzclaw was convicted of 18 counts of rape and sexual assault against eight black women on December 10, 2015. The convicting jury recommended he be sentence to 30 years for each offense, which amounts to a total of 263 years incarceration. We commend the prosecution and conviction of Daniel Holtzclaw, and are hopeful that his sentence will reflect the full gravity of his serious offenses.
Holtzclaw was initially charged with sexual assault and/or rape of 13 black women – all of whom reside in a poor, majority black area of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Those who were watching the trial were skeptical that Holtzclaw would be convicted of any charges due in part to the all-white, mostly male, jury. During the jury selection process the only three of the potential jurors were African-American and all three were stricken from the jury pool. The jury deliberated for almost four days before they found Holtzclaw guilty on “four counts of first-degree rape, one count of second-degree rape, six counts of sexual battery, four counts of forcible sodomy and three counts of procuring lewd acts.”
Holtzclaw did not choose his victims by accident. He purposefully preyed on black women, who ranged in age from 17-58 years old, who he mistakenly believed would never come forward to report his crimes due to their own previous contacts with law enforcement. Some have even described his victims as “…the type of women that few people, black or white, care about: most of them are poor, lack a formal education, have been involved with [commercial] sex…, and have had documented struggles with the law and drugs.”
Holtzclaw ultimately made his biggest mistake when he pulled over his last victim, a 57 year-old grandmother who , other than her race, did not fit the “profile” of his previous victims. She had the full support of her family when she decided to come forward and report the incident to officials. Her brave actions opened the door for the other victims to walk though, and led to the ensuing investigation, prosecution and convictions.
Investigators used locator devices in both Holtzclaw’s police car and cell phone to corroborate victims’ allegations, by pin pointing his exact location during the reported crimes. The prosecution ultimately resulted in 13 victims – all of whom were black women – testifying to the horrible crimes they suffered as a result of the former officer’s predatory crimes. Most of the victims’ stories contained strikingly similar facts. Holtzclaw would stop them under the pretense of a trafficking violation, run their identities through a police data base to check for arrests warrants, and search both their person and car for drugs. Using any past run-ins with law enforcement to bully and intimidate his victims, and while in full uniform and under the “protection” of his position in law enforcement, Holtzclaw would threaten his victims with arrest to coerce them into performing sexual acts. The victims would reluctantly oblige for fear of Holtzclaw and the power he brandished over them while wearing his badge and caring his gun.
While Holtzclaw and his defense team admitted that he had come into contact with these women while on duty, they only contested that he in anyway sexually abused or exploited them. The defense focused on painting Holtzclaw as a local hero – a former football player turned upright model cop – while questioning the victims’ credibility by pointing out past legal infractions including drug use and prostitution. This defense strategy attempted to dehumanize the victims and portray them as “unrapeable”.
The marginalization and invisibility of poor black women, and the impunity powerful white men receive when they sexually abuse black women, goes a long way toward explaining why there was a lack of national media attention on this case as it proceeded through the system. As Jenn Jackson observed in The Independent, “in the United States, Black women have been stereotyped as hyper-sexed, caricatured as physically resilient and incapable of feeling pain, and have been rendered invisible by most in the mainstream media.” The African-American Policy Forum (AAPF) and Oklahoma Artists For Justice report that on the day of the verdict no national media was present at the courthouse. As news of Holtzclaw’s crimes and conviction spreads across social media, it is hoped that this case will increase visibility and accountability beyond verdict and encourage all of our communities to confront the sexual abuse of back women by police.
The CSE Institute supports the victims and the AAPF on January 20th and 21st,, Days of Visibility and Accountability, as they bring attention not only to the Holtzclaw case, but to the need for systemic changes to end intersectional violence against black women by police.
For more information about AAPF’s Day of Visibility and Day of Accountability please visit www.aapf.org/action-items-okc.