Analysis Violence

Advocates Cautiously Optimistic After Guilty Verdict for Daniel Holtzclaw: ‘This Is a Great Start’

Kanya D’Almeida

“We are pleased with the 18 counts that we received; we are not pleased with the 18 that we didn't," OKC Artists for Justice Co-Founder Grace Franklin said at a press conference on the steps of the Oklahoma County District Court on Friday afternoon. "There were five women who did not receive justice, and that is a problem."

Read more of our articles on the Daniel Holtzclaw trial here.

It was just after 9 p.m. on Thursday night when Judge Timothy Henderson entered the courtroom to read out the much-awaited verdict in the trial of a former Oklahoma City police officer accused of sexually assaulting 12 Black women and one teenage girl.

The all-white jury had deliberated for more than 40 hours behind closed doors, keeping the press, lawyers, activists, and family members of both the victims and the defendant completely in the dark for days as to what the outcome would be.

In a testament to the tension that has mounted around this casewith almost daily protests in support of the victims taking place outside the Oklahoma County Courthouse since the trial began on November 2—Judge Henderson preceded his announcement of Holtzclaw’s fate by asking for “order” in the courtroom and saying he would not tolerate “any outbursts.”

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He then read the verdict: Daniel Holtzclaw, who had just turned 29 that day, was found guilty of 18 of the 36 charges against him, including forcible oral sodomy, sexual battery, and rape in the first degree. Jurors recommended a total of 263 years of jail time for the offenses, meaning that depending on how the judge divides up the sentences, Holtzclaw could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Of the recommended 263 years, 120 are a direct result of Holtzclaw receiving four convictions for first-degree rape, each of which carries a recommended 30-year sentence. One of the victims was a teenager, just 17 years old at the time of the rape for which Holtzclaw has now been found guilty.

Jurors also slapped him with a recommended combined 68-year sentence for four counts of forcible oral sodomy, each carrying between 16 and 20 years of jail time. He was found guilty on six counts of sexual battery and three counts of “procuring lewd exhibition.” The final conviction was a 12-year sentence for rape in the second degree by instrumentation.

Half of the charges against him returned “not guilty” verdicts—18 in total, including four counts of sexual battery, one count of stalking, one count of burglary, and one count of indecent exposure.

The verdict vindicates eight of the 13 accusers who took the stand in the course of the five-week trial.

Despite a chilling absence of any major national media outlets during the trial, more than 107,000 tweets were posted with the hashtag #DanielHoltzclaw on Twitter Thursday night, as local journalists and Black Lives Matter activists shared live updates on the verdict and the mood in the courtroom.

After hearing his first guilty conviction, Holtzclaw broke down in tears, sobbing uncontrollably as the judge read off one sentence after another. After he was remanded to the custody of the Oklahoma County sheriff—where he will remain until the official sentencing on January 21—local news crews filmed clips of the victims’ families and supporters embracing one another, praying, and expressing their gratitude that “justice has been served.”

“I was overjoyed and really gratified that this case was handled in such a way that this man was not allowed to escape the consequences of his actions,” Camille Landry, co-convener of the Oklahoma City group Occupy the Corners, told Rewire in a phone interview.

“Justice is hard to come by,” she said, “but this verdict really gives me a little bit of hope that maybe all of these struggles aren’t in vain, that there’s some semblance of justice, somewhere, for some people, some time. We’ve got a long way to go, but this is a great start.”

Landry expressed frustration that some local media channels have been overplaying the possibility of a “negative” public response, saying they hope that community members will “keep the peace.”

“I find this incredibly offensive,” she said. “The organizing around this case has always been a peaceful processwe’re not the ones wreaking violence on others. Even the Oklahoma City Police Department (OCPD) made it a point to note that community leaders have conducted themselves appropriately, and activists have worked with the OCPD to keep people informed and shine a light on this process.”

“In fact,” she added, “some of the most effective witnesses against Holtzclaw were members of the police department.”

Holtzclaw was dismissed from the police force in January, following initial investigations into a complaint lodged by a then 57-year-old Black woman, the oldest of the 13 accusers and the first to come forward, that the former cop forced her to perform oral sex on him after pulling her over in a routine traffic stop.

Shortly after the verdict came down last night, the OCPD said in a Facebook post that they were “pleased with the jury’s decision … and firmly believe justice was served.”

Up until Judge Henderson read out the final verdict, however, it was anyone’s guess which way the jury would swing. Black activists in particular have come to expect a degree of immunity for those involved in violent crimes against the Black community, a reality that was driven home for many with the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin back in 2013.

“I’m still in shock about the verdict,” Rachel Anspach, a senior staff writer at the African American Policy Forum (AAPF), told Rewire. “It felt good to get some good news for once, and while his conviction will not undo the brutality that he enacted upon his victims, it will prevent him from preying on more vulnerable Black women.”

“The fact that an all-white and mostly male jury could convict Holtzclaw, particularly after the victim-blaming and -shaming tactics that the defense used during the trial, shows that some progress is being made and that our work to make visible the realities of rape and state violence may be taking hold on some level,” she added.

Anspach was referring to the defense’s trial strategy of calling the integrity of the victims’ characters into question, repeatedly referring to their past encounters with the criminal justice system and in, many cases, the women’s histories of substance dependency.

In the end, this strategy appears to have backfired, as it merely served to highlight how Daniel Holtzclaw systematically preyed upon poor and otherwise marginalized women in a low-income neighborhood on the east side of Oklahoma City that served as his patrol area between December 2013 and June 2014.

As dozens of witnesses, including forensic experts and detectives, testified, Holtzclaw went after women with existing warrants and prior criminal convictions, using this knowledge to coerce the women into sexual acts. On multiple occasions, he used his so-called suspicions of drug possession as a pretext for procuring lewd exhibition, and groping, fondling, and even penetrating his victims.

The defense evidently hoped that shaming the survivors would cause the jury to doubt the validity of their testimonies. This did not prove to be the case for eight of the accusers, but for those five women whose testimony the jury essentially deemed invalid, the defense lawyer’s tactics may indeed have been the deciding factor.

“We are pleased with the 18 counts that we received; we are not pleased with the 18 that we didn’t,” OKC Artists for Justice Co-Founder Grace Franklin said at a press conference on the steps of the Oklahoma County District Court on Friday afternoon. The group has been instrumental in mobilizing support for the victims and was the first to draw national attention to the case.

“There were five women who did not receive justice, and that is a problem,” she went on. “These women deserve to be heard … and we want to say to the nation, there has to be a conversation about sexual assault, about rape, and about the specific care that Black women and women of color need when these situations arise.”

She said the public has a tendency to not believe Black and disenfranchised women, a tendency to not value them the way other women are valued. “So today we stand to say that the 18 guilty counts are importantbut the 18 not guilty counts are reflective of serious issues we have in this country.”

As the survivors themselves have testified, the fear that no one would take their word over the word of a police officer forced them to keep silent. One survivor, S. H., who testified she was handcuffed to a hospital bed when she was assaulted, said she was so shocked that she was “speechless.” Flanked by her parents at Friday’s press conference she said, “I felt scared, I didn’t know what to do. I was in survivor mode so I had to do what he was making me do.”

Holtzclaw appears to have grown accustomed to this reaction, seeming almost to take it for granted that no one would report him. He miscalculated badly the night he decided to stop J. L., his last victim and the first to report him.

Addressing a sea of reporters and television cameras Friday, J. L. said Holtzclaw fondled her and “did things she never thought a police officer would do.” She said his gun was visible throughout the assault, and all she could think was that he was going to shoot and kill her. “I kept begging him, ‘Sir, please don’t make me do this, don’t make me do this, sir,’ and the only thing I could see was my life flash before my eyes.”

Unlike many of Holtzclaw’s other victims, J. L. had no prior criminal record, no warrant for her arrest, no substance dependence issues he could leverage. So when, “by God’s will” he finally let her go, she drove straight to the police station to lodge a complaint, sparking a massive investigation and the subsequent trial.

“I guess he just picked the wrong lady to stop that night,” she said.

With the judge still undecided on how Holtzclaw will serve the recommended 263 years, groups like OKC Artists for Justice are calling for consecutive, as opposed to concurrent, sentences, using the hashtag #WeWantLife to express their demands.

One of the survivor’s mothers who addressed the press conference Friday afternoon said it would be unjust if Holtzclaw were allowed to serve his sentences concurrently. “This won’t be a just outcome for the 13 women, those 13 Black queens, who have been violated in such a harsh way,” she said. “I just want to say that I’m not satisfied and I pray that … he is not free [anytime] soon to walk these streets and maybe terrorize someone else.”

While advocates are determined to remain vigilant and continue pursuing justice for those victims who were not vindicated by Thursday’s verdict, they are also cautiously optimistic that the trial outcome represents a small step forward for justice for Black women.

“I believe this verdict is unprecedented, and represents what will hopefully be a critical step toward the visibility of Black women victims of state violence and rape, and toward a culture where we can see Black women, regardless of the circumstances of their lives, as potential victims of sexual violence,” AAPF’s Anspach stated.

“Hopefully now an increasing number of activists, journalists, and the public in general can move toward recognizing sexual assault as a form of police violence and one that we need to center in our movement to combat state violence alongside police killings,” she added.

Analysis Human Rights

Activists Seek Justice as Verdict Looms for Officer Involved in Freddie Gray’s Death

Michelle D. Anderson

Freddie Gray, 25, died from spinal cord injuries in April 2015, a week after police arrested and took him into custody. Last year, Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby brought criminal charges against six of the officers involved with his arrest. Since then, three officers' trials have been completed without convictions.

The bench trial of Lt. Brian Rice, the highest-ranking Baltimore Police Department officer involved in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, began on Thursday, July 7. Rice faces involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment; the state dropped a misconduct charge after acknowledging Rice was not directly involved in Gray’s arrest. The closing arguments in his trial are scheduled for this Thursday; the judge is expected to share his verdict Monday.

The Rice trial started just as the public began grappling with the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling—and the subsequent murder of five police officers at a Dallas protest.

Castile and Sterling, both Black men, died during encounters with police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, triggering nationwide protests against police brutality and implicit racial bias that have continued into this week.

And just like the days following Gray’s death, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook were flooded with images, videos, and hashtags demanding justice.

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Gray, 25, died from spinal cord injuries in April 2015, a week after police arrested and took him into custody. Activists and some Maryland legislators accused police of giving Gray an intentional “rough ride,” when inmates or persons in custody are transported in police vans without a seat belt and subjected to frantic driving, ultimately causing them injury. Last year, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby brought criminal charges against six of the officers involved with his arrest. Since then, three officers’ trials have been completed without convictions—and as activists on the ground in Baltimore wait for more verdicts, they are pushing for reforms and justice beyond the courtroom.

The first police trial, which involved charges against Officer William Porter of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office, ended in a mistrial in December 2015 after jurors failed to reach a verdict.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Glenn Williams acquitted Officer Edward M. Nero of all charges in May. Mosby had charged Nero with misconduct, second-degree assault, and reckless endangerment for putting Gray into the police van without a seat belt.

But many viewed the trial of Caesar R. Goodson Jr., who drove the van, as the most critical of the six. Last month, Judge Williams announced that Goodson, too, had been acquitted of all charges—including second-degree depraved-heart murder, the most serious of those brought against the officers.

Kwame Rose, a Baltimore activist, told Rewire he was not surprised.

“The judicial system of America shows that police are never held accountable when it comes to the death of Black people,” said Rose, who was arrested in September and December during peaceful protests related to Gray’s death.

During Goodson’s trial, Williams said there were several “equally plausible scenarios,” that could have transpired during Gray’s arrest. He also rejected the state’s argument that police intentionally gave Gray a “rough ride,”according to a New York Times account.

Ray Kelly, community relations director for the No Boundaries Coalition of West Baltimore grassroots group and a community interviewer for the West Baltimore Community Commission on Police Misconduct, said he was disappointed by the Goodson verdict. However, he noted that he was heartened by Mosby’s decision to bring criminal charges against the officers in the first place. “It’s a small change, but it is a change nonetheless,” Kelly said in a recent interview with Rewire.

In addition to the charges, Gray’s death eventually sparked a major “pattern or practice” investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Local activists, including the No Boundaries Coalition, which issued in March a 32-page report that detailed police misconduct in Baltimore and helped to trigger the DOJ, expected the findings of the DOJ investigation in late June.

However, the document has yet to be released, said Kelly, who is a native of the same West Baltimore neighborhood where Gray was detained.

Kelly is expecting a consent decree—similar to the ones in Ferguson, Missouri, and Cleveland, Ohio—and a continued partnership with federal officials in the near future.

For Kelly, the trials—and the lack of convictions—have proved what leaders in groups like the No Boundaries Coalition have been saying in their advocacy. One of those messages, Kelly said, is that the community should continue to focus less on the judicial process for theoretically punishing officers who have committed wrongdoing and more on initiating policy changes that combat over-policing.

Baltimore Bloc, a grassroots group, seemed to echo Kelly’s sentiment in a statement last month. Two days after the Goodson verdict, Baltimore Bloc activists said it was a reminder that the judicial system was not broken and was simply doing exactly what it is designed to do.

“To understand our lack of faith in the justice system, you must first recognize certain truths: the justice system works for police who both live in and out of the city; it works against Black people who come from disinvested, redlined Black communities; and it systematically ruins the lives of people like Keith Davis Jr., Tyrone West and Freddie Gray,” Baltimore Bloc leadership said, referencing two other Baltimore residents shot by police.

The American Civil Liberties Union, citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Illinois v. Wardlow, said in a May blog post that police had legal case for stopping and arresting Gray, but also said the action constituted racially biased policing and diminished rights for Black and Latino citizens.

“The result is standards of police conduct that are different in some places than other places. It is a powerful example of institutionalized and structural racism in which ostensibly race-neutral policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups,” ACLU leaders said.

Right before issuing its statement in May, ACLU released a briefing paper that said at least 21 individuals had been killed in police encounters across Maryland in 2015. Of those fatal encounters, which included Gray, 81 percent were Black and about half were unarmed.

The ACLU said it was impossible for the agency to determine whether any officers were disciplined for misconduct in most cases because the police refused to release crucial information to the public.

The ACLU began compiling information about police custody deaths after learning that Maryland officials were not tracking those cases. In 2015, state politicians passed a law mandating law enforcement agencies to report such data. The first set of statistics on police custody deaths is expected in October, according to the ACLU. It is unclear whether those will include reports of officer discipline.

In line with those efforts, activists across Maryland are working to bring forth more systemic changes that will eliminate over-policing and the lack of accountability that exist among police agencies.

Elizabeth Alex, the regional director for CASA Baltimore, a grassroots group that advocates on behalf of local, low-income immigrant communities, told Rewire many activists are spending less energy on reforming the judicial process to achieve police accountability.

“I think people are looking at alternative ways to hold officers and others accountable other than the court system,” Alex said.

Like the No Boundaries Coalition, CASA Baltimore is part of the Campaign for Justice, Safety & Jobs (CJSJ), a collective of more than 30 local community, policy, labor, faith, and civil rights groups that convened after Gray’s death. CJSJ members include groups like the local ACLU affiliate, Baltimore United for Change, and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle.

CJSJ leaders said the Goodson verdict underlined the critical need for “deep behavioral change” in the Baltimore Police Department’s culture. For the past year, the group has pushed heavily for citizen representation on police trial boards that review police brutality cases. Those boards make decisions about disciplining officers. For example, the city’s police commissioner might decide to discipline or fire an officer; that officer could go to the trial board to appeal the decision.

This spring, recent Baltimore City mayoral candidate and Maryland Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore), helped pass an omnibus police accountability law, HB 1016. Part of that bill includes a change to Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBR) giving local jurisdictions permission to allow voting citizens on police trial boards. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan signed the changes into law in May.

That change can only happen in Baltimore, however, if the Baltimore Fraternal Order of the Police union agrees to revise its contract with the city, according to WBAL TV. The agreement, which expired on June 30, currently does not allow citizen inclusion.

In light of the current stalled negotiations, Baltimore Bloc on July 5 demanded Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young instead introduce an amendment to the city charter to allow civilian participation on trial boards. If Young introduced the amendment before an August deadline, the question would make it onto the November ballot.

Kelly, in an interview with Rewire, cited some CJSJ members’ recent meeting with Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis as a win for Baltimore citizens. During that meeting, held on June 29, Davis outlined some of his plans for implementing change on the police force and said he supported local citizens participating on police trial boards, Kelly said.

This year, the Baltimore Police Department has also implemented a new use-of-force policy. The policy emphasizes de-escalation and accountability and is the first rewrite of the policy since 2003, according to the Sun.

The ACLU has welcomed the policy as a step in the right direction, but said the new rules need significant improvements, according to the Sun.

For example, the policy requires reporting to the department when an officer flashes or points a weapon at a suspect without shooting; the data will be reviewed by the police commissioner and other city officials. However, it doesn’t require the same from officers who use deadly force.

Notably, the policy requires officers to call a medic if a person in custody requests medical assistance or shows signs that they need professional help. Gray had requested a medic, but officers were skeptical and didn’t call for help until he became unresponsive, according to various news reports.

Rose, who recently received legal assistance from the ACLU to fight criminal charges related to his arrests last year, said citizens should continue to demand accountability and “true transparency” from law enforcement.

In the meantime, with four trials—including Rice’s case—remaining and no convictions, many are looking to see if Mosby will change her prosecution strategy in the upcoming weeks. Roya Hanna, a former Baltimore prosecutor, has suggested Mosby showed poor judgment for charging the six officers without “adequate evidence,” according to the Sun.

Meanwhile, Baltimore City’s police union has urged Mosby to drop the remaining charges against officers.

The trial of Officer Garrett E. Miller is slated to begin July 27; Officer William Porter, Sept. 6, and Sgt. Alicia D. White, Oct. 13. All officers charged pleaded not guilty.

Baltimore Bloc, citing its dissatisfaction with her performance thus far, demanded Mosby’s removal from office last month.

Kelly, who counts Baltimore Bloc among his allies, has a different outlook. Calling’s Mosby’s swift decision to charge the six officers last year  “groundbreaking,” the Baltimore activist said the ongoing police trials are justified and help give attention to police misconduct.

“She should follow through on the charges ….We need that exposure,” Kelly said. “It keeps the debate open and sparks the conversation.”

Commentary Violence

Inciting Hatred and Violence: Unfortunately, This Is Who We Are As a Nation

Jodi Jacobson

As a country, we are more like those we condemn for espousing hatred than most Americans would like to admit.

“This is not who we are.” “This is not America.” These sentiments have become a common refrain in recent years in the response to everything from mass shootings to police abuse of power and police brutality toward protesters, to blatantly racist acts by members of a fraternity. In response to a CIA report describing the extent of torture and brutality used on prisoners in the “war on terror,” President Barack Obama asserted “this is not who we are,” because torture is “contrary to our values.” And in the wake of the mass shootings last year in San Bernardino, California, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch stated that: “Violence like this has no place in this country. This is not what we stand for, this is not what we do.”

But these statements are at best aspirational for a country in which the leaders of at least one major political party regularly exploit intolerance, fear, and “morality” to win campaigns, and in which the leaders of the other too often hide behind platitudes and half-measures intended to placate specific constituencies, but not fundamentally challenge those realities. They are at best aspirational for a country in which the beliefs of Islamic fundamentalists are condemned, but the same views when espoused by conservative Christian fundamentalists are given legal and social approval by both parties, because … religion. They are at best aspirational for a country in which women’s rights to their own bodies are a subject of ongoing debate, medical professionals are villainized and murdered, and rape and sexual assault are often blamed on the victim. These statements are also aspirational in a country in which we imprison people of color of every age, sex, and gender at rates far higher than whites; actively rip families apart by deporting millions of undocumented persons; and pass laws denying people access to basic human needs, like bathrooms, due to their gender identity.

We are not what we say. We are what we do.

Consider the events of the last 24 hours. A U.S.-born citizen (born in New York, living in Florida) opens fire in a large gay nightclub, killing at least 50 people and injuring at least 53 more. The shooter’s father suggested that the rampage was not due to religion but “may” have been incited by his son’s anger at seeing two men kissing. His former wife described him as being violent and unstable. He allegedly made a call to 9-1-1 to declare himself a supporter of ISIS. He used a military-grade assault rifle to carry out what is being called one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

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In the immediate aftermath, even before details were known, the following happened: First, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has most recently worked strenuously to oppose the rights of transgender students in his state’s schools, tweeted and shared on Facebook the biblical quote from Galatians, 6:7, stating that “a man reaps what he sows.” Translation: The people killed had it coming because they were gay. (His staff later said the tweet was prescheduled. It stayed up for four hours.)

Before any details were shared by the FBI or Florida law enforcement, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), known for scapegoating Muslim Americans and calling for racial and religious profiling, was on CNN claiming that the U.S.-born shooter was “from Afghanistan.”

In short order, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined the fray by appearing on CNN. According to the transcript:

“If in fact this terrorist attack is one inspired by radical Islamic ideology, it is quite frankly not surprising that they would target this community in this horrifying way, and I think it’s something we’ll have to talk about some more here, across the country,” he said.

Rubio [also] said it’s not yet clear what the shooter’s motivations were, but that if radical Islamic beliefs were behind the shooting, “common sense tells you he specifically targeted the gay community because of the views that exist in the radical Islamic community with regard to the gay community.”

Rubio would appear to share those views “with regard to the gay community.” He is against same-sex marriage and made that opposition a key issue during his recent run for the GOP presidential nomination. He opposes legislation to make employment discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation illegal, supports “conversion therapy,” and is against the rights of gay persons to adopt children.

What, exactly, is the difference between the hatred spewed by radical Islamists and that by conservative Christian fundamentalists in the United States? How can any less responsibility be laid at the feet of the U.S. politicians and their supporters for violence and terror when they espouse the same forms of hatred and marginalization as those they blame for that terror? Why are we so quick to connect the lone gunman in Orlando with Islam and so unwilling to connect the “lone wolves” like Robert Dear, Angel Dillard, and Scott Roeder with the Christian right, or to hold young white star athletes accountable for the violence they commit against women? Why are we so loath to talk about rational limits on an AK-47 assault rifle, a weapon of war, when mass murders have become routine?

It may not be pretty and it may be hard to acknowledge, but as a country we are more like those we rush to condemn than we are willing to admit. We are a country founded on and fed by a strong historical current of patriarchy, white supremacy, systemic racism, misogyny, discrimination, and scapegoating, all of which in turn feeds hatred, violence, and terror. That is part of who we are as a nation. Pretending that is not the case is like pretending that your severely dysfunctional family is just fine, and that the violence you experience daily within it is just an aberration and not a fact of life.

But it is not an aberration. Christian fundamentalist hatred is not “better” than Islamic fundamentalist hatred. White American misogyny is not “better” than Islamic fundamentalist misogyny. Discrimination and the abrogation of rights of undocumented persons, people of color, LGBTQ people, or any other group by U.S. politicians is not different morally or otherwise than that practiced by “other” fundamentalists against marginalized groups in their own country.

We are what we do.

We like to act the victim, but we are the perpetrators. Until we come to grips with our own realities as a country and take responsibility for the ways in which politicians, the media, and corporate backers of both help bring about, excuse, and otherwise foster discrimination and hatred, we can’t even begin to escape the violence, and we certainly can’t blame anyone else. We must aspire to do better, but that won’t happen unless we take responsibility for our own part in the hatred at the start.

Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to clarify the details around the Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tweet.