SisterSong Speaks | “It’s not over…”

Thirteen women braved being judged and denigrated and spoke out as survivors of sexual violence. They stood up in court and they told their stories of being assaulted by former Oklahoma police officer Daniel Holtzclaw. They are sisters and mothers and grandmothers. They are also Black women.

To these courageous women, we say thank you. We believe you. We pray you will get the healing and support that you deserve. We are also thinking about the many women out there who were not able to come forward – other victims of Officer Holtzclaw who were too afraid to speak out, as well as the many Black women who have been assaulted by police officers and other authority figures in their lives.

The young woman who was assaulted by Holtzclaw at 17 was asked why she did not report the rape. She answered, “What kind of police do you call on the police?” Daniel is part of a system where Black women are regularly violated by those in law enforcement. He is part of a culture where Black women are oversexualized and dehumanized. He is part of society where our decisions and our judgment are continually questioned.

Survivors of sexual violence often worry that they will not be believed, but it is that much worse when we know people do not trust Black women or treat us with respect and dignity. One victim said, “I did not think anyone would believe a black woman.” This man preyed on women of color. He went after sex workers and women who use drugs – people who are seen as less than. He sought out victims who already struggle to be respected in our society, people who would have a harder time being heard.

There was a lot of criticism of the mainstream media and the lack of extensive coverage or in some cases any real coverage of this important case. Black men and women took to social media and wrote pieces in online forums and raised our voices to bring attention to this case. This is a lesson in the power we can have when we come together and demand to be heard, but also the work ahead of us to ensure that when Black women are victimized the media does not ignore it.

He manipulated many of these women. He said that he would let a charge drop or threatened them with jail time. This also speaks to our broken criminal justice system. When a woman who is struggling with addiction and using drugs can be assaulted because she is afraid of being caught up in the system because of our antiquated drug laws, this is a problem and proof that the war on drugs is a war on people where too often women of color are hurt most.

Many watched with bated breath as the verdict was handed down convinced that he would not be convicted. He was and there is justice in that, but there is also an indictment of our society and its devaluing of women of color.

Daniel Holtzclaw is at fault. He hurt these women. He preyed on their vulnerability and used his position of authority to silence them. But what this case also makes clear is that we have to do more to change a culture where some women are seen as either disposable or invisible and where our laws and so-called justice system work against the safety and dignity of women of color.

It is with a heavy heart that we celebrate this verdict – not just because we struggle with our relentless focus on carceral solutions, but also because the effects of this case are far from over. It is not over for the women that he hurt. They will still be grieving and healing for many years.  It is not over because we must continue to work not only to reform a system where justice too often eludes us, but also work to put an end to rape culture and to stop the myths that dehumanize Black women. This is the justice that we seek and it will not be found in a court room. It will be found in the conversations and protests and the organizing and the advocating that we do to create social, cultural and policy change.

So today our thoughts are with the women who bravely spoke out. We thank them and we commit to doing all that we can to put an end to the violence against Black women.
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