It has taken me a few days to sift through my feelings about the 18 of 36 guilty verdicts handed down by an all-white jury to former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw for the rapes and sexual assaults of seven black women and one black child.
After over a year of screaming his name into the brutal wind, the voices of black women emerged as the catalyst for ensuring that the country knew about his depraved abuse of power, his fetishizing of blackness, his cruel and purposeful violation of women he thought this country had thrown away.
In many ways, though, Holtzclaw thought right.
Black women who have been socioeconomically marginalized in this country have too often been thrown away and ignored by the system—and oftentime by their own communities—imbuing him with the audacity to carry out his crimes as if he were digging through the trash. So, of course, after 45 hours of deliberation over four days, there was the initial exhilaration of watching him sob and shake in that courtroom like the cowardly predator that he is.
Then came the sobering realization that five of Holtzclaw’s victims, five of our sisters, did not receive justice. Even though he had a clear pattern of rape and sexual assault, their stories, their realities, were not believed. Once it became clear that the verdicts weren’t applied to all of his victims, it didn’t feel like a “win” at all.
Thinking about those 18 not-guilty verdicts and the #DanielHoltzclaw victims who have yet to step forward, and the…
I watched as a few of the women victimized by Holtzclaw and supporters of the women stood on the steps of the Oklahoma County Courthouse, vibrating with anger and hurt. I listened to them say that they were not satisfied with the verdict, that almost doesn’t count. They wanted to know where was the accountability for the rest of the department? Surely Holtzclaw did not work alone? Surely his rapes had not gone undetected? How was he able to turn his GPS locator off so many times without raising suspicion? How was he able to run searches on so many women that he never arrested?
As Kali Gross also noted at the Huffington Post, “How many more victims are there, really?”
Renowned poet Aja Monet wrote so powerfully in a recent piece that “black skin is a uniform of war.” I’ll take that one step further and say that our black womanhood is too often the spoils of the same war, and that did not end with the half-conviction of Daniel Holtzclaw. He isn’t alone. Nearly a thousand police officers have been stripped of their badges for sexual misconduct, and I’m sure a thousand more have not been. If anything, our black womanhood serves as a shield from our unfaithful expectations that sometimes trick us into believing that a system created to enslave and marginalize, devalue and abuse us is capable of ever fully doing right by us.
History tells us this.
When the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus came around on Dec. 1, I was reminded not only of her personal experience with sexual assault but also of her courageous work documenting the rapes and sexual assaults of other vulnerable, black women. Black women like Recy Taylor, who was 24 years old in 1944 when she was gang-raped by six white men in Alabama. Black women like Gertrude Perkins, who in 1949, was abducted and raped by two white police officers in Montgomery.
Thinking about Rosa Parks and her work around Black women, sexual assault and rape — rapes of Black women by cops and…
In the tradition of Parks, Jannie Ligons, the 59-year-old grandmother sexually assaulted by Holtzclaw, has been rightfully applauded for standing up and speaking out against him, setting the wheels in motion for his arrest and ultimate conviction. Ligons said, “He just picked the wrong lady to stop that night.” Those words are powerful in both what they say and what they don’t say. Because if she’s the wrong one, that means that the jury decided that the five women who didn’t receive justice were the right ones.
And doesn’t that sound familiar?
Claudette Colvin was 15 years old when she refused to give up her seat on the bus, nine months before Parks. Even as the Montgomery boycott has been heralded as a seminal moment in civil rights history, many people still don’t know her name. Why? “ … I had a child born out of wedlock; I became pregnant when I was 16,” Colvin, now 75, said in a recent NPR interview. “And I didn’t fit the image either, of, you know, someone they would want to show off.”
It is not surprising, then, that it has been feverishly reported that Ligons is a respectable grandmother because, in this country, being just a black woman isn’t enough. With the Holtzclaw verdict, and the jubilation and self-congratulation that so many of us have engaged in because we did the work of shedding light on the case, I am increasingly aware that the least that we demand in the way of justice is the most we will ever receive.
Because what that jury said was that five women didn’t deserve protection from the monster sworn to serve and protect them. And what that says to me is that the evidence was so damning in the other eight cases that they couldn’t not convict Holtzclaw, because if they could have, he’d be a free man today.
So, though I am beyond thrilled that eight black women received justice, let’s be purposeful in uplifting the women who did not. The women who don’t pass the dangerously fickle and subjective bar of respectability in this country. The women who are thrown away, picked up and thrown away again. The women that movements don’t get built around. The Claudettes and the Recys and the Gertrudes. The women whom society tells to just be satisfied with what they can get and to deal with what they don’t.
We see you. We won’t forget you.
And we will continue to fight for you.