Recently, an unprecedented trial has called police sexual violence against Black women into sharp focus. Former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw was charged with 36 counts of sexual assault -- including 1st degree rape -- against 13 Black women ranging in age from 17-57. On December 10th, 2015, Holtzclaw was convicted of 18 of the 36 charges.
For these 13 women and countless others like them, Holtzclaw’s manipulation capitalized on previous contact with the criminal justice system, poverty, and/or prior drug dependency that he used to undermine their credibility. These circumstances made them vulnerable to sexual assault by a person in authority. The marginalization of these women was later highlighted as Holtzclaw’s defense dehumanized the survivors by employing their race, gender and criminalizing stereotypes to exclude them from fundamental considerations that every rape victim deserves.
The day of accountability is coming soon for Holtzclaw -- he will be sentenced on January 21. Judge Timothy Henderson will determine whether Holtzclaw will serve his 263 year sentence consecutively or concurrently. We stand with those victimized by Holtzclaw in demanding that he serve each count of his sentence separately, just as he traumatized each of them individually.
As individuals deeply concerned about the impacts of police violence on all of our community-members, we stand in solidarity against the sexual violence perpetrated by those sworn to serve and protect us.
The Holtzclaw sentencing must also become a moment for communities across the country to look beyond the verdict and focus on the broader systemic flaws that made his actions possible. We need sweeping criminal justice reform that includes: ending police brutality, exposing internal police data involving sexual misconduct, ensuring equitable representation in judicial proceedings, and reviewing police policy and internal procedures in relation to abuse of power. There will be no real accountability until the abuse of power inflicted on some of our most vulnerable citizens by police officers is visible, acknowledged, and repudiated.
Daniel Holtzclaw is not unique: approximately 1,000 officers lost their badgesin a six-year period after having engaged in some form of sexual misconduct. Moreover, Holtzclaw’s actions took place in Oklahoma, a state with one of the highest rates of sexual assault and female incarceration in the US. Holtzclaw’s trial demonstrated how the criminalization of Black women can be used to justify their dehumanization and abuse at the hands of the state. Using law enforcement status as a badge to rape is a pervasive method for maintaining white supremacy through policing the boundaries of race, class and gender -- a method which dates back to slavery.
Holtzclaw seized upon the invisibility of disenfranchised Black women in choosing his victims, and in turn, mainstream media and social justice organizations further failed them by maintaining silence. Major outlets such as the New York Times, NBC and CBS ran one story each -- all on the verdict. This was mitigated by independent and international media coverage, including outlets such as Democracy Now! and The Guardian. Mainstream feminist and anti-racist groups also failed to show up at this critical moment and mobilize in support of Holtzclaw’s victims. Grace Franklin, co-founder of OKC Artists for Justice, responded to the silence: "Why aren't there more women out here of all shades, of all backgrounds for these women? Why are we doing this alone?”
The conditions that have created this vulnerability can no longer be met with silence. The intersectional erasure of Black women victims of state violence and rape must be countered. Holtzclaw was not just a “bad apple.” The barrel itself is poisoned. We need systemic change to our carceral system that holistically addresses racialized policing -- including its intesections with gender, gender identity, class, citizenship status, and other markers of vulnerability.
Together, we can demonstrate that an increasing number of activists, journalists and the general public recognize sexual assault as a form of police violence that must be centered in our efforts to combat anti-Black state violence.
When the lives of marginalized Black women such as Jannie Ligons are centered, a clearer picture of structural oppression emerges. No analysis of state violence against Black bodies can be complete without including all Black bodies within its frame. Until we say the names and tell the stories of the entire Black community, we cannot truly claim to fight for all Black lives. Pledge your commitment to join us during this critical moment in the history of our efforts for a society that values all lives equally.