Getting a conviction on 18 out of 36 charges against former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw does not mean justice was served. Hardly.
It is a travesty.
Daniel Holtzclaw served on the police force for three years. Given this, it’s likely that the 13 black women who testified against him represent only a small fraction of the actual number of black female victims out there, especially if we consider that nationwide nearly 70 percent of sexual assaults go unreported.
It also suggests that despite compelling evidence against him, including but not limited to DNA evidence, eyewitness testimony and corroborating evidence from the GPS in his police cruiser, the jurors failed to convict on half of the charges. Or as some have noted, there were five victims for whom “justice” was denied.
As Jannie Liggons, a grandmother and brave survivor of Holtzclaw, told reporters, after she begged him to stop and feared for her life, in the end it was that the now-convicted serial rapist “picked the wrong lady to stop.”
Those words are so powerfully true and charged with so many historical legacies that make it nearly impossible for black women to get justice in America. The fact is that an earlier victim had come forward.
But because she was probably an impoverished black woman with a criminal record or substance abuse problem, his favored demographic, it was not until Liggons, an older middle-class black woman with no criminal record, came forward that the case gained legs.
Still, while investigators took the case seriously and located the additional victims and charged Holtzclaw, the mainstream national media barely covered the story.
A judge gave him bail and an ankle monitor — until he racked up two bond violations that sent him to jail to await trial. Still, social media campaigns were mounted on his behalf.
After the DNA evidence from his youngest victim, a 17-year-old, was discovered, even the Oklahoma City Police Department had no choice but to fire him. As Chief Bill Citty said, “Your offenses committed against women in our community constitute the greatest abuse of police authority I have witnessed in my 37 years as a member of this agency.”
Even the seating of an all-white jury for a case involving 13 black female victims was largely a blip on the national media screen.
It was not until Holtzclaw was convicted that the story started gaining national attention.
And what that tells us is that except for the groups of black feminists and their allies keeping the story alive on social media and in leftist media outlets, America still does not care about black women.
After all, a black woman — even 13 of them — being sexually assaulted is not news-worthy in this country. What has shocked and forced the major media outlets into having to say something about this case is that now it looks as if someone might actually be punished for it — never mind that he can appeal.
This partial victory is also an opportunity for some to suggest that the justice system worked. It allows people to ignore the inherent bias and wrongness of selecting an all-white jury. It glosses over the likely negligence of the Oklahoma City Police Department and moves away from important, unanswered questions such as: How many officers ride without partners? How often are their GPS devices checked? How many ambiguous stops are investigated?
And this: How many more victims are there, really?
We should be glad that he was not acquitted, but black women deserve far more than the fraught, partial justice awarded here.
Kali Nicole Gross is an associate professor of African and African diaspora studies at The University of Texas at Austin.
A version of this op-ed appeared in The Huffington Post.
To view more op-eds from Texas Perspectives, click here.
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