“Is this the first time you sucked a white cock?” Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw asked as he bent over his victim. “You’re gonna have to give me head or ass or go to jail.”
Holtzclaw was found guilty Thursday night on 18 of 36 counts, including first-degree sexual assault. He now faces up to 263 years in prison.
What’s more remarkable than a police officer being convicted of crimes on duty is that Holtzclaw is “white” and all but one of his 13 known victims were black, including a 17-year-old runaway and a fiftysomething grandmother.
Technically, Holtzclaw is biracial: born to a white veteran police officer and a Japanese mother—but, make no mistake, Holtzclaw claimed to be white.
Don’t take my word for it. Holtzclaw is the most reliable witness to his own life.
He used that “whiteness” as a weapon to ridicule and demean his black victims (“Bet you never ducked white dick,” he told one). He wanted them to know that he was white. He wanted them to know that they were black and therefore powerless. He wanted them to know that nobody—not police, not investigators, not the media, not a jury—would believe them. He wanted them to know that his badge and his “whiteness” placed him among a privileged class to which they did not and could not belong; that it meant he could subjugate them with all manner of defilements with impunity.
The fact that this jury was able to sort through the physical evidence and direct witness testimony to return guilty verdicts on 18 counts is an indication of measurable progress. Historically, all-white juries have almost always meant that there would be no justice for a black defendant or victim. Together, this jury panel spent 45 hours weighing, questioning, and deciding. As the hours stretched on, many began to believe that Holtzclaw might walk away a free man.
It almost never got this far, though. Despite other accusers who previously stepped from the shadows, it wasn’t until a grandmother went to police the night she was assaulted that the wheels of justice began to turn. She testified that she was on her way home from a game of dominoes with friends, when Holtzclaw pulled her over and forced her to perform oral sex. She thought he was going to kill her, she told the courtroom.
Ultimately, the jury believed her and seven other victims. The message from the prosecution team to the victims was clear: Black women’s lives matter.
“We’re going to ask the judge to make sure that this defendant never sees the light of day,” District Attorney David Prater told CNN. “And we’re going to ask him to run consecutive, every count.”
However, five of his victims left the courtroom without justice. We do not know if they were the same women who were forced to come to court in jailhouse shackles. We do not know if they were among those allegedly engaged in prostitution or drug possession. But what we do know is the jury did not believe them—at least not beyond a reasonable doubt.
All too often, how much justice one receives depends largely on the social strictures of wealth, race, and gender. In that regard, even a predator like Holtzclaw probably thought he was walking into a county courthouse holding a pocket full of aces. In his estimation, he was everything they were not: middle class, white, and male.
Based on his own words, Holtzclaw embraced some of the most unfortunate aspects of that privilege. Despite his mixed racial heritage, he bought into and used that sense of supremacy to sexually violate his victims and the oath he swore to serve and protect them. In the end, likely based in part on that, he believed he would get away with it. He was counting on this jury to see his victims the same way he saw them—black, poor, and without value.
He wagered the house on that. The jury called him on the bet.