BLACK VOICES

Daniel Holtzclaw And The Reality Of Police Brutality Against Black Women

"What kind of police do you call on the police?"

The decision was reached on his 29th birthday.

After four full days of deliberation, former Oklahoma cop Daniel Holzclaw was found guilty of rape and sexual battery Thursday. Holtzclaw sobbed relentlessly after an all-white jury convicted him on 18 of the 36 charges he faced, which included six first-degree rape counts and a slew of sexual battery charges.

The verdict came after weeks of harrowing witness testimonies, egregious tactics by defense attorneys and pleas from prosecutors who said Holtzclaw preyed on black women with criminal records and substance abuse problems because he thought they wouldn’t speak up.

Holtzclaw was wrong. They did. 

Holtzclaw carried out calculated attacks of sexual violence against one of America’s most marginalized and mistreated groups: black women. Yet his lewd acts are just one example of brutality and sexual assault cases against black women by police that too often go ignored.

What kind of police do you call on the police?" A 17-year-old victim who testified about her rape by Holtzclaw

For seven months, Holtzclaw patrolled one of the state’s poorest black neighborhoods and individually sought out black women with criminal records and/or a history of drug use.

Prosecutors said Holtzclaw specifically targeted these victims because he believed them to be too vulnerable or fearful to do or say anything against a criminal cop acting under the color of authority. Ultimately, he believed that his gender, race and policeman status would intimidate his victims enough to protect his purported innocence. Again, he was wrong.

The youngest victim was a 17-year-old girl who said Holtzclaw raped her on her mother’s porch and whose DNA was found in the crotch area of his uniform pants, one expert testified. "What kind of police do you call on the police?" the victim asked in court. A 57-year-old grandmother sparked an investigation after she reported her assault by Holtzclaw to authorities last year. She told them Holtzclaw forced her to perform oral sex during a traffic stop.

In court, Holtzclaw’s defense attorney Scott Adams used the background of these women as ammunition to paint victims as violators of the law who “want to work forward their own agenda” and “don’t care about the truth.” 

But the real truth is:

THIS is what rape culture looks like;

THIS is what police brutality can look like against black women. 

Sadly, we’ve seen this victim-blaming narrative played out countless times before in cases against black women -- hell, against all women -- robbing them of the sympathy and support they so desperately deserve.

Holtzclaw specifically targeted on women with criminal histories who in turn were put on trial themselves as they testified against him.

"It wasn't coincidence who he chose to violate, it was methodical and it was deliberate," Benjamin Crump, a national civil rights attorney, told the press on Friday. "Some might not consider them model citizens, but they were citizens. They were Americans, and their lives mattered." 

Their lives matter just as much as the blistering number of black boys and men killed by police, who have also been unfairly treated by both the media and law enforcement officials in twisted attempts to criminalize them.

They matter just as much as the countless number of black women, with criminal histories or not, who have not escaped the same or similar level of racial profiling and violent police aggression. 

“They patted around my waistline and butt. They were so aggressive.” Crystal Pope

In 2013, I wrote a story on Crystal Pope, a 23-year-old black woman who told me police officers stopped and frisked her while searching for a male rapist on the loose.

“They patted us down and ran their hands through my front and back pockets,” Pope told me. “They patted around my waistline and butt. They were so aggressive,” she said. 

Similar instances of brutal treatment of black women by white male police officers also occurred in cases like those of 16-year-old Dajerria Becton in McKinney, Texas and 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock in Los Angeles.  That is to say, as we've said before: For black women, police brutality and sexual harassment go hand in hand. 

A detailed report by the Associated Press published in November found that in a six-year period, roughly 1,000 officers nationwide have lost their licenses over sexual misconduct, in cases of rape, sodomy and other sex crimes. However, that number reflects only officers who lost their badges in states with laws in place to decertify them for such behavior (large law enforcement agencies in California and New York, for instance, do not follow such protocol). 

"It's happening probably in every law enforcement agency across the country," Chief Bernadette DiPino of the Sarasota Police Department in Florida told the AP. "It's so underreported and people are scared that if they call and complain about a police officer, they think every other police officer is going to be then out to get them."

Information gathered from the report suggests there are likely at least hundreds of other cases of current officers who abuse their power to perform acts of violence against women, particularly black women. A report released earlier this year by the #SayHerName campaign, which highlights police brutality against black women, confirmed this, providing an accurate reflection of the ongoing sexual exploitation black women battle every day.  

As we decry the ongoing police violence committed against many of our black men and boys, campaigns like #SayHerName, #YouOkSis and other initiatives, aim to recognize and respect the value of black women whose names rarely receive national attention.   They fill the void left neglected by so many, including black men, who are largely absent in the rally to fight the injustices black women face.

While justice was delivered in Holtzclaw's case, his victims are still left scarred, scared and surrounded by haunting memories -- both of their physical attacks by him and the excessive ridicule by defense attorneys who attacked their credibility and dehumanized their character.  

And there are countless of other black women who likely face some of the same battles.

So, what do black women do when we are attacked by those put in place to protect us? Where are we to turn in times of such tragedy? Who can we go to for support?

These are all questions similar to those Holtzclaw’s prosecutors posed to the court:

“Who will care?” they asked. “Who will believe them?”

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