The trial of former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw begins today. Holtzclaw faces a total of 36 charges, six for first-degree rape. All of Holtzclaw’s alleged victims are African American women.
In pre-trial hearings, prosectors argued that Holtzclaw targeted vulnerable women—including sex workers, those with addictions and women with active warrants—in his crimes, knowing they’d fear arrest if they reported his abuse to police. But, after Holtzclaw allegedly assaulted a woman who did not fit that profile—a 57-year-old grandmother on her way home from playing dominoes with friends—she filed a police report. That was in June 2014.
“We started the investigation, and we started looking at traffic stops he had made throughout the previous months to try to identify and initiate contact with females that we knew he had stopped during that period of time … to see if they had been sexually assaulted,” Police Chief Bill Citty said.
The charges against Holtzclaw include not only sex crimes, but also burglary and stalking. GPS data from Holtzclaw’s police car matches up with many of the women’s statements about where they were victimized. There are 13 women involved in the case, the youngest of whom was 17 when Holtzclaw allegedly assaulted her. In a pre-trial hearing, she told the court that Holtzclaw raped her on her mother’s front porch. He allegedly told all of the victims that they would face arrest or physical harm if they didn’t comply with his demands.
Chief Citty said the crimes allegedly committed by Holtzclaw are the “greatest abuse of police authority” he’s seen in nearly four decades on the force. He told The New York Times, “[The victims are women] that he as a police officer felt like he had power over. And he abused that power.”
Holtzclaw’s lawyer, Scott Adams, made clear in pre-trial hearings that he would attack the credibility of the women at trial, pointing to their histories of drug use and sex work.
Black women are frequent targets of police violence—take the recent examples of Dajerria Becton in McKinney, Texas and Sandra Bland in Prairie View, Texas—however their cases are often under-covered by mainstream media. In May, the African American Policy Forum released the “Say Her Name” report, which spotlights black women’s and girls’ experiences of police violence.
Although black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality. Yet, inclusion of black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives and policy demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combatting racialized state violence for black communities and other communities of color.
According to the report, African American women are routinely racially profiled by police. In 2013, for example, 53 percent of all of the women stopped by police in New York were black.
The Oklahoma NAACP has asked the Justice Department to investigate Holtzclaw for hate crimes.