After 45 hours of deliberations, a jury found former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw guilty on 18 charges, including rape and sexual battery, for assaulting 13 Black women over the course of seven months while on duty.
Holtzclaw was found guilty on five counts of first- and second-degree rape, six counts of sexual battery, four counts of forcible oral sodomy and three counts of procuring lewd exhibition. He was found not guilty on 18 out of 36 total charges. Sentencing will take place on January 21; Holtzclaw faces up to 263 years in prison, and activists are calling on the court to impose a life sentence.
Holtzclaw used his position and power as a police officer to systematically target at least 13 Black women for rape and assault. All 13 survivors testified during the trial, a courageous act for women who were predictably shamed, smeared and disparaged in court.
Prior to the verdict, the case received scant attention in the mainstream media. Black women, including the Black woman-led activist group OKC Artists for Justice, spearheaded online and on-the-ground organizing to mobilize action around the case. The group attended the trial and verdict, and also held a rally which brought attention to their hashtag, #BlackWomenMatter.
At a press conference today, Grace Franklin, one of the group’s cofounders, proclaimed, “These women deserve to be heard. These women deserve to have justice. These women are important enough for the nation to have been following this case from the beginning… The 18 counts are important. And the 18 not guilty [counts] are reflective of an issue that we have in this country. Black women matter.” The jury in this case did not include any Black women or any people of color.
“While this is a key moment of accountability for police, we must recognize that Black women disproportionately experience certain forms of police brutality, including sexual assault,” said Feminist Majority Foundation president (and publisher of Ms.) Eleanor Smeal. “We need to do more than acknowledge police brutality—we need to ensure that these women have access to justice.”
In May, the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) released a report, “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women,” highlighting stories of Black women who have been killed or assaulted by police.
“Although Black women are routinely killed, raped and beaten by the police, their experiences are rarely foregrounded in popular understandings of police brutality,” explained Kimberlé Crenshaw, AAPF founder and director, in a statement. “Yet, inclusion of Black women’s experiences in social movements, media narratives and police demands around policing and police brutality is critical to effectively combating racialized state violence for Black communities and other communities of color.”
The jury’s decision comes on the heels of an investigation by the Associated Press, which found that over the last six years, about 1,000 police officers in the United States lost their badges because of sexual misconduct. That amounts to an officer being fired for sexual misconduct nearly every other day.