Rape. Not the slow-motion scene in a television show or Lifetime movie where a woman cries in silence while a haunting song reminds you this is tragedy — where a vase is thrown, tears are shed and the camera pans as we fade to commercial.
No. Rape in real life. Violence, pain, anger, fear, intimidation, brutal force, coercion and shame that are used to seal a woman’s voice so she won’t report.
Currently, a court case in Oklahoma City is exposing our unwillingness to face the ugly truth about how we view the worthiness of women who accuse a man of rape. Thirteen black women accused a white police officer, Daniel Holtzclaw, of sexual assault and rape between December 2013 and June 2014. An arrest warrant was issued, and he was arraigned. At that time, he had at least 24 counts of violent sexual assault that included rape.
OKC Artists for Justice is an advocacy organization that was formed to give a voice to these women in a world that seems to define them by their pasts. They are mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces and friends who deserve your support as they fight and move toward healing.
The saga of Holtzclaw’s prosecution has illuminated a variety of issues regarding our society, our culture and our criminal-justice system. For instance, a judge initially set a $5 million bail, which — considering the escalating predatory behavior of the charges — was a reasonable amount and a reflection of severity.
A serial rapist targeted poor, black women on the east side of Oklahoma City, the predominately African American side of town. The east side includes low-income housing, the State Capitol, homeowners, business owners, Deep Deuce (yes, you live on the east side) and the ever-expanding OU Health Sciences Center. There are many women of all races who enter and exit that community daily.
Holtzclaw appears to have targeted women in a small area that has a low level of income, which means the women there have a higher probability of drug addiction and contact with the justice system. With an ability to access personal records, it appears he was able to run their information with the intent of ensuring they are part of a community that would be discredited.
Alas, $5 million dollar bail seemed to ensure Holtzclaw’s incarceration until the trial.
Bail is not a right. It is based on the severity of one’s charges and whether the defendant poses a threat to society. Serial rapist = danger. We were safe from the alleged predator. We, the black women who reside on the east side of OKC, which includes myself.
Then it happened.
WE DON’T BELIEVE YOU.
THE SAFETY OF 13 BLACK WOMEN WHO REPORTED SEXUAL ASSAULT IS NOT WORTH THE ADDITIONAL MAN POWER TO REMAND ONE WHITE POLICE OFFICER IN JAIL.
Holtzclaw did bail out for $57,000 but was ultimately returned to jail after violating his terms and having his bond pulled by the insurance company who underwrote it.
But what is a black woman’s safety worth? OKC Artists for Justice answers that question.
Her safety is worth every penny needed to keep an alleged serial rapist off the streets. Her safety is worth other women of all races and classes gathering in front of the courthouse demanding the accused serial rapist be remanded. Her safety is worth examining through eyes of compassion, not judgement. Her story is worth national media coverage. She is worth justice.
Beyond bail issues, an all-white jury was selected for this case in Oklahoma’s most culturally diverse county. All victims were black, but all jurors — and the defendant — are white. It is unsurprising but also highly disappointing. Remember, Oklahoma is the only state in the country where the first African American president did not win a single county in 2008. There are issues to address.
In this instance, we want to make sure the case of black women being stalked and attacked is not forgotten. Rape is the issue at hand.
To empathize with the victims, you must first realize why they seem like strangers. You may have to consider if and why my use of the phrase “black women” throughout this piece bothers you. This is about more than socioeconomics. There is a component that is uncomfortable only if you are unaware or unwilling to see.
Keep this in mind: Neither OKC Artists for Justice nor anyone else not named Daniel Holtzclaw made this an issue of race. In his attempt to find prey that would not report or be believed, Holtzclaw targeted only poor black women; women who many may infer are “unrapeable” or not worth the same protection or response that would apply to any other group of women.
If the physical evidence and the defendant were the same but the victims were 13 white women from Nichols Hills, The Village or Edmond, do you think bail would have been reduced to $500,000? After he violated his condition of bail, do you think he would only receive 14 days in jail and be home for the holidays? Or would it have been revoked immediately the first time? Would the media coverage have been different? Would larger organizations be visibly behind these victims?
If your gut response to these last three questions is yes, then we are asking that you join us as we say no to sexual assault by wearing teal to court throughout the trial. Be a beacon of support for these women. In addition, OKC Artists for Justice will also have a rally of support from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday.
If the most vulnerable in our society are bravely speaking up, surely we can lend our voices to ensure their stories are heard and changes are made in this system to protect us all.