Daniel Holtzclaw, a former Oklahoma City police officer accused of sexually assaulting and raping 12 women and one underage girl while on duty, is on trial this week.
You may not know his name because his alleged victims are black. That fact has led to blink-or-you'll-miss-it mainstream-media coverage and either lukewarm interest or outright apathy from almost everyone who isn't also a black woman.
Holtzclaw, 28, was arrested Aug. 21, 2014, after an investigation into the claims of, then, only seven women. Like a vulture scavenging for prey, Holtzclaw is accused of circling an area of Oklahoma City where he could swoop down on black women and girls, some living in poverty, others carrying drugs and/or facing criminal charges, who would be the most vulnerable to attack. According to prosecutors, he abused his power to target the ones so terrified of police—or resigned to the fact that the system is designed to protect officers and white America, not black victims—that he knew he could threaten them with jail if they dared to refuse or report him.
“I didn’t think anyone would believe me. All police work together. I was scared,” said S.H., one of Holtzclaw’s accusers.
“What am I going to do? Call the cops?” said A.G., the 17-year-old girl Holtzclaw allegedly raped on her mother’s porch after offering her a ride home, before threatening to take her to jail on phantom warrants. “He was the cops.”
But Holtzclaw became reckless, authorities say, as people drunk on their own power often do, and he pulled over a black woman, a 57-year-old grandmother identified as J.L. She had no criminal record, thus nothing he could hold over her head, and a sense of neither fear nor inferiority. Once J.L. told her story, investigators were able to retrace the steps of a depraved beast in uniform with a fetish for black flesh.
The initial 16 charges against Holtzclaw included four counts of forcible oral sodomy, two counts of first-degree rape, four counts of sexual battery, four counts of indecent exposure, one count of first-degree burglary and one count of stalking. As more alleged victims came forward, the number of charges ballooned to 36.
It seems clear to those who believe in justice that Holtzclaw’s alleged actions should warrant hate crime charges, which, by the FBI’s definition, are “criminal offense[s] against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”
Holtzclaw, who previously played a role in an unarmed black man’s death, targeted these women because they were black and, he believed, would not or could not fight back, authorities say. Their blackness wasn’t happenstance; it was sought after and desired for the sole purpose of inflicting pain.
These are the black women who are pushed to the margins of initiatives addressing racial injustice (#WhyWeCantWait). These are the women many black feminists have to force into national conversations steeped in respectability, racism, patriarchy and classism; and for our efforts, we are rewarded with accusations that we are being divisive by decentering the victimization of black men. These are the black women erased from one-note feminist discourse that refuses to allow space for intersectionality because white feminism is invested in its own version of white male supremacy.
You may not know that an all-white jury—eight men and four women—was selected Tuesday to ensure that Holtzclaw receives a fair trial from his “peers.” That Holtzclaw’s mother is reportedly of Japanese descent does not matter; once he put on that uniform, he became a beneficiary of a racist system that devalues and destroys black people as a matter of course and with impunity.
And there may be four white women on that jury, but if precedence has taught us anything, it is that white women, even so-called allies, have too often been complicit in justifying and/or inflicting violence against black women and girls. See McKinney, Texas.
For our sanity, we have learned not to expect much from them.
Just last week I wrote, after former Spring Valley High School resource officer Ben Fields assaulted a teen girl:
Many white feminists will wave their colorblind flags and say, “This is a travesty, period. It has nothing to do with race.” But they won’t talk about the expendability of black women and black women’s flesh; how easy it is for us to be stripped of our dignity and our agency. They won’t talk about the fact that Fields is walking in a long tradition of slave owners and that it never occurred to him that he would be expected to treat what his kind consider property of the state as a human being.
Replace “owners” with “patrols.” Replace “Fields” with “Holtzclaw.”
It should not have taken a year of black feminists and womanists beating the drum for Holtzclaw’s name to surface, especially during a time when the nation’s focus is on state-sanctioned terror inflicted on black communities by police officers. Rape is brutality.
It. Should. Not. Have. Taken. A. Year.
The outcry, though the trickle of mainstream reporting and social media interest is beginning to intensify this week, is still muted. It is muted because the same system that disproportionately criminalizes black girls in school is guilty of disproportionately criminalizing and killing black women in their cars, at their jobs, on the side of highways, when they call for help, in their homes. It is muted because racism and misogyny is a potent mixture that too often silences those who only pretend to give a damn. It is muted because this country likes its black women either invisible or for consumption; it always has. Nothing has changed but the weather.
Imagine what the national response would be if a police officer sexually assaulted 12 white, middle-class women and one underage white girl while on duty. Pause for a moment and honestly, deeply think about that.
I guarantee, this week would not have been the first time many people had heard Holtzclaw’s name.