The 13 black women who say Daniel Holtzclaw raped them while he was on duty as an Oklahoma City police officer have largely been ignored by the national media and human rights activists.
Daniel Holtzclaw, 28, is standing trial for raping or sexually abusing 13 African-American women. Prosecutors are trying Holtzclaw for 36 counts including rape, sexual battery, forcible oral sodomy and stalking. Holtzclaw has pleaded not guilty and says he had nothing to do with the allegations against him.
Holtzclaw is essentially saying all 13 Black women are lying.
It’s deplorable that Holtzclaw may have singled out women for violent sexual acts, but it’s also insidious that he directed his racial hatred specifically toward unsuspecting Black women.
Where was the outrage? Where are the protesters?
Holtzclaw allegedly told the women that if they didn’t comply, they would be arrested or physically harmed. The first victim to come forward was a 57-year-old grandmother who claimed Holtzclaw forced her to perform oral sex.
Prosecutors say Holtzclaw methodically ran background checks to single out women who had outstanding criminal warrants for drug and sex violations. Were these women pristine citizens? No. Did they deserve to be raped? Absolutely not.
And they shouldn’t be forgotten or overlooked either.
Holtzclaw didn’t just rape women randomly; he intentionally preyed on Black women, women who were living in obscurity, and women who didn’t have the legal legitimacy to fight back.
And Holtzclaw knew it. For many, these Black women were, and are, invisible.
The national media forgot these women because they were poor, had been previously incarcerated, and, for some journalists, the women’s stories, no matter how similar they were, lacked credibility.
So now, four weeks into the trial, Holtzclaw’s defense attorneys are aggressively going after the victims. The lawyers are trying to discredit the women one by one, digging up their drug use, drinking habits and suspended driver’s licenses to present to the jury 13 flawed women.
“Officers count on no one believing the victim if she reports,” Diane Wetendorf, who runs a counseling group in Chicago for women, told The Guardian. “And [they] know that the word of a woman of color is likely to be worth even less than the word of a white woman to those who matter in the criminal justice system.”
That’s the point.
For some in America, the lives of Black women are not valued. And for many months, this case was off the media’s radar. A white cop is accused of raping 13 Black women and after a few headlines, this tale of police abuse fades into the background, drowned out by stories like Donald Trump talking about his hair.
But now, during the trial, nine black women have testified that Holtzclaw raped them and their powerful testimonies can’t be disregarded easily.
“There was nothing that I could do,” said one woman who testified. She accused Holtzclaw of driving her to a field, raping her in the back of his squad car, and leaving her there. “He was a police officer and I was a woman.”
Another accuser, a 17-year-old girl, says Holtzclaw raped her on her mother’s front porch. And yet another alleged victim said Holtzclaw forced her to perform oral sex while she was under the influence of drugs and handcuffed to a hospital bed.
“I didn’t think that no one would believe me,” the woman testified in a pre-trial hearing, according to The Associated Press. “I feel like all police will work together.” What am I going to do? Call the cops? He was a cop.”
Human rights activists say cases against police officers are hard to prosecute because jurors often believe the cops are innocent. And when race is a factor, it further complicates the jury’s decision.
In this case, 13 women all claim Holtzclaw preyed on them, raped them, and covered up his crimes by hiding behind his badge.
I’m hoping the jury doesn’t automatically dismiss the charges against Holtzclaw simply because he’s a cop and the women are African-American.
And here’s the broader point: This heinous crime was committed by a bigoted man who took an oath as a law enforcer to serve and protect all citizens – and that includes Black women, regardless of their station in life.