Early in life I established a pretty healthy view of policemen. Both the D.A.R.E officer in my elementary school and the S.R.O officer within my high school were always nice and friendly to me. I don’t ever remember being intimidated by either of them. As an adult, I have been pulled over a few times for speeding. In those times, my interactions with the officers were fairly pleasant aside from a green colored reminder that going to Starbucks isn’t really an emergency.
And there are many others, like myself with have a relatively positive view of police officers, despite a scary and disgusting surge in police brutality against minorities–especially men and boys. But there is another set of incidents that disgust and frighten me: They make up the case of a police officer using his authority and privilege to prey on the (legally) vulnerable.
Daniel Holtzclaw is the officer accused of allegedly raping, sodomizing, and more than 10 Oklahoma women in while on duty. A very sick pattern has emerged–all of the victims (including a 57-year-old grandmother) were black women with petty charges on their records. Holtzclaw targeted those who he assumed would not fight back.
As we are weeks into the Holtzclaw trial, the legal system in Oklahoma City is clearly sending a message.
Black women are still viewed as inferior. During slavery, black women were subjected to the whims were only permitted to do with their bodies what satisfied the masters. In these instances, what these women were being put through was not considered rape, or assault, because those that were perpetuating the acts against the women owned them. With no other factors present, most would argue that one technically can’t be held accountable for damaging one’s own property.
Now, we must fast forward to present day. Yes, we are living in a post slavery society, but it seems that some of the attitudes are still very much alive. I believe a lot of people do not know the details of this case, because the victims of crimes are black. Sadly enough, some people still do not think that crimes committed against black women are heinous enough to warrant investigation. In 2015, with all of the so-called progress we like to think about especially with a black President and black female Attorney General.
The attitudes that pervaded much of the antebellum south and parts of the systemically racist north still creep into the minds of those who have power within law enforcement. There is a scale to some regarding how valuable a woman is. If she is young, educated, or well bred then you can add a few points, and jump to ‘GO’ and collect $200.
I’m not saying that everyone feels this way, mind you. Rape, in all forms, is a horrible crime, no matter who the victim is. Our timelines and media headlines have not been saturated with the details of this case We haven’t heard about Holtzclaw stalking victims and in one case forcibly entering a home of one of the victims because of their race. If black women were held in higher regard, that would not be the case. Daniel Holtzclaw would be a household name and this story would be getting constant. national. attention.
The scales of justice are tilted against minority victims in a court. Jury selection in a trial is crucial. Why? Because the jury comes to the jury room with a set of experiences, and if the jury does not connect with the victims, there are far less likely to empathize. There is no empathy for the victims. To have empathy for someone you must have the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. You have to be able to imaging yourself in said position encountering said consequences. When you are able to identify with someone, then you can better understand their choices and even their emotions.
The Daniel Holtzclaw trial has an all white jury made up of eight men and four women. This is a miscarriage of justice in that none of the people on the jury will be able to relate and understand the feelings and thoughts of the women who were victimized. There isn’t a single black woman on the panel who can sympathize with those who have been harmed, and imagine herself as a helpless victim. If no one can fathom what it is like to be victimized, then how can anyone see or feel the need to punish the perpetrator.
Having an unsympathetic jury also means there will be more focus on how the victims could have contributed to their assaults. It’s the same “was she asking for it?’ argument that should never be part of this type of story. The all white jury scenario let’s perpetrators know they can get away with it and tells victims that any harm suffered is not a concern of the greater justice system–which adds insult to the injury. Lastly, it condones the art of victim shopping by saying that if you victimize women who are minorities or who have vulnerabilities (legal or otherwise) you just might be in the clear, because if the jury looks only like you, then you may not be truly held accountable.
The abuse of power will always exist, and minorities will always be targets. Police officers risk their lives to keep things orderly and ensure the safely of all people. Historically, they have been largely looked upon as upstanding and authoritative figures. They are employed to protect and defend those who have been victimized. Those in power get to make the rules and bend them to suit their interests.
The abuse of power is not a CNN breaking news story by any stretch of the imagination. However, the abuse of power perpetuated by a police officer, like Daniel Holtzclaw, against more than 10 black women in circumstances ranging from fondling to sexual battery is newsworthy. It reminds black women the importance of not putting ourselves in situations where we have to rely and depend on those in power to help us and not have a field day with our vulnerabilities. In a time where all of our televisions, radios, and social media accounts are filled with details of terrorism abroad, black women on the streets of Oklahoma were being terrorized by someone wearing a badge that wasn’t considered to be dangerous.
It is because of stories that contain awful of police brutality and heinous crimes against women that more people distrust and disrespect police officers. Police officers are supposed to put a stop to crime by arresting offenders, and allowing victims to report their grievances. It is a violation of the public trust when a police officer intentionally perpetrates sexual crimes against women who he knows will likely feel helpless. How can you call the police when you are being victimized by the police? These black women were targeted specifically so that they would not feel empowered to come forward–because people would doubt their credibility. The jury is still out (literally) on Daniel Holtzclaw, but no matter what the judge and jury do, the message has been received.