Showing Pictures of Daniel Holtzclaw Crying is Unfair to His Victims

by Aisha K. Staggers

Rarely do we read about cases where African-American women are serial raped and said rapist is captured, tried and convicted, but that is exactly what happened in Oklahoma, of all places, in the trial of former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw.

Upon hearing his conviction, Holtzclaw faced the jury of his peers and tearfully mouths the words, “how could you do this?” As in, “how can you, an all-white jury, convict a white man of raping those black women?”  Despite the fact that there was irrefutable evidence to support the victim’s claims, including DNA, Holtzclaw and his attorneys sought to vehemently proclaim his innocence by comparing the women he was was accused of assaulting to Tawana Brawley saying that there was an “agenda” of sorts and a conspiracy to ruin his image.  Holtzclaw’s sister even went so far as to sell “Free Holtzclaw” t-shirts, and a Facebook page was set up to offer comfort and support to his family while re-victimizing the women he attacked and revisiting old stereotypes about black women and promiscuity.

Mainstream media did not feel the violation and serial rape of black women was important enough to be included in regular news coverage.  The reporting of this case was left largely to black media outlets.

Smug and and self-assured, Hotlzclaw showed up to court each day with a smile, convinced that he would walk away unscathed, a free man. Why? Because history has shown this to be true.  Black women are less likely to report being raped, are less likely to have their rapist convicted, particularly not if that rapist is a white man, and especially not if that rapist is a white cop.  As a police officer Holtzclaw knew this and he used this knowledge to not only commit crimes, but to invoke terror upon his victims. He smiled everyday, until Thursday; that’s when he cried.

When I first saw the pictures Holtzclaw crying after being found guilty in 18 of 36 counts rape against 13 black women, I thought it was unparalleled justice. When I learned that the sentence had been passed down on his birthday, that justice was especially rich.  “Some kind of splendid karma is this,” I thought to myself.  I was even more satisfied when I learned the recommended sentence that could possibly come along was a maximum of 263 years in prison for his crimes against these women, the youngest of whom was 17.  However, the more pictures of his reaction to verdict circulated---him crying in overwhelming despair ---the more disgusted I felt.  

The media should not be showing his anguish.  The public should feel no sympathy for him.  He was not crying for the suffering of his victims or the trauma he inflicted upon them. He was crying  because he was convicted of a crime no one, including his victims, expected him to be found guilty of.

It is not mind boggling.  The tears that should be shown are those of the women whose bodies and lives he violated, the very same women he and his lawyers attempted to put on trial and basically blame for his crimes against their humanity.  The same women whose ancestors suffered the same in the hulls of slave ships on the Middle Passage, on plantations, in dark fields, in alley ways, on side streets, on college campuses, in their own homes, and sadly, sometimes at the hands of family members.  These are the tears that matter.

Black women rarely get justice in cases of sexual assault.  All too often black women are treated as inauthentic rape victims who, even as children, invite sexual abuse and victimization. This idea that black women are “unrapeable” is centuries old and is a stereotype that persists even today. It discourages many from seeking justice, and it is the very stereotype that Holtzclaw’s attorney played into.  Therefore, this rapist’s tears should not be our focus at this time.  He does not deserve to cry and he does not deserve this moment.  It is a moment that belongs to the victims and their due justice, I think, after all they have gone through we should let them have it.

Aisha K. Staggers is a writer, lecturer, post-modern culture critic, womanist and mother.

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