Mimesis Law
13 August 2020

The Holtzclaw Conviction Is Not Progress

Dec. 17, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — One week ago, former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw was told that he will spend the rest of his life in prison. Technically, the sentencing, where the convicted rapist faces up to 236 years, will not occur until January 21, but when the jury read the verdict convicting him of having committed eighteen criminal sexual acts against eight women, a life sentence became a foregone conclusion.

This case was a meeting of two intense areas of criminal justice. There was the fact that a police officer was investigated, charged, and convicted for his crimes.  There was the fact that an all-white jury convicted a white male of raping multiple black women.

Some have lauded Holtzclaw’s conviction as a step forward for police accountability and racial justice. From Time,

The fact that the former Oklahoma City police officer was convicted of 18 counts of sexual assault against 13 black women isn’t just a victory for the victims. It could also represent progress toward a long overdue shift in the way our criminal justice system treats police officer offenders and rape victims, especially victims who are black.

Unfortunately, it does not.

Daniel Holtzclaw is conclusively evil in ways that many of us cannot even fathom. This is clear.  But his conviction is no watershed moment.  The totality of his case should be a sobering reminder to all of us about where we currently are in regard to proper justice, and a lesson about how far we have still to go.

As for what Holtzclaw’s conviction might mean to victims of rape and their ability to come forward and be believed, I will leave that topic to other writers. It is a subject that is often heavy on bogus statistics and light on productive solution. Suffice to say, there are very real struggles within a system that must accommodate the reporting of this very unique type of crime and one that must adhere to the presumption of innocence and the guarantee of due process for the accused.

But the other two areas that were touched by the Holtzclaw case provide much clearer lessons. Police accountability and racial justice are inextricably linked, sometimes seemingly in a death spiral.

Thirteen women came forward and testified at trial that Holtzclaw had sexually victimized them under disturbingly similar circumstances. It is impossible to know what the outcome would have been had that number been lower than thirteen? Salon’s Eesha Pandit made just that point.

How many victims need to come forward before we believe the women who have been assaulted by police officers?

Is 5 too few? Is 10 enough?

It took thirteen black women to convict Holtzclaw. That is all we know. Ten may have lacked the critical mass to obtain a conviction. How different would the numbers need to have been had his victims been white? And then what if Holtzclaw was black? These are intriguing (and depressing) thought experiments, but ones that can only be speculative.

One thing that is not speculation is that the Holtzclaw case has very little to do with police accountability. Holtzclaw was not convicted of rape after his defense attorney argued that his rapes were justified because he feared for his life or had to commit rape in the line of duty. This was not a cop held accountable. This was a rapist held accountable.

The police accountability that actually could have mattered would have been during the commission of his crimes. Holtzclaw was allowed to travel out into the community with a gun and a badge, completely untethered to any semblance of oversight.

Holtzclaw often worked shifts, alone, from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. in one of the state’s poorest neighborhoods. Twelve women and one teenage girl, all Black, and ranging in age from 17 to 58, shared testimony that showed a pattern: Holtzclaw would stop them, search them for drugs or drug paraphernalia and run criminal background checks on them. He would leverage anything he found or learned to secure their silence before sexually assaulting them, threatening arrest if they didn’t acquiesce. Their stories are devastating and betray a clear pattern of behavior by Holtzclaw.

He worked alone. The trial evidence would show that some of his actions were monitored, but it didn’t matter because no one was paying any attention. This presents the alarming fact that while our bus drivers and mail carriers must account for their routes and times, police do not. Had even the slightest modicum of oversight been administered to Officer Holtzclaw, perhaps he would have been found out long ago.

But he wasn’t. He continued to use the power of the badge to victimize poor, black women. It was not until the thirteenth woman reported his abuse that the police decided to even check and see if the cop in their employ was a proper public servant or serial rapist.

Number 13 (known in court as J.L.) was not the first victim to report Holtzclaw.

At the hospital, J.L. met Detective Kim Davis of the Oklahoma City Police Sex Crimes Unit. It was Davis who connected the dots. J.L.’s report reminded her of a similar unsolved assault report involving an officer in May. A woman, referred to as T.M. in the court documents, reported that an unidentified police officer had sexually assaulted her on May 8.  T.M. was found with a crack pipe in her purse when Holtzclaw forced her to perform oral sex in exchange for her freedom. After the assault, Holtzclaw drove her towards an open field where T.M. panicked and began to scream. Immediately changing his mind, Holtzclaw dropped her off at a different location. After T.M. showed Detective Rocky Gregory the route they took, Gregory compared her directions to the GPS system in Holtzclaw’s patrol car. They were an exact match.

Number 13 reported her crime on June 18, 2014, six weeks later. Aside from her and T.M., all the other victims remained silent. Every fear that kept them silent was valid. They were poor and black. Their rapist was a cop.

Holtzclaw deliberately exploited a vast power differential between himself and his victims. He was a police officer. In enforcing our laws, we have become all too aware that cops have the ability to enforce or break the law as they see fit. For many cops, this means performing a job focused on arrest at any cost instead of forwarding any greater social purpose (safety, community, prosperity, etc.).

For Holtzclaw, this meant he was free to engage in serial rape. He knew that he was covered by the inherent fear that these poor black communities have of the police. People fear the police because they can beat and kill with no consequence. People fear the police because they can falsely arrest and charge with the blind support of prosecutors and district attorneys. For communities like the one in which Holtzclaw preyed, blowing the whistle on a cop tends to only be a dog whistle. And those dogs will bite.

Beyond the silencing effect of the uniform, Holtzclaw also knew that his victims were at the bottom of the pecking order of our social power structure. Poor black women who would accuse a cop of rape. He victimized these women specifically because they were black and powerless.

Until Number 13.

Once she came forward, the investigation really took off (and by “took off” I mean actually began). After connecting Number 13 to the previous victim, T.M., the investigators went through Holtzclaw’s records and spoke to the women named in those reports. Six reported that Holtzclaw had sexually assaulted them. All six were black.

Once the police had this information, they expanded their investigation and located five more women who also accused Holtzclaw of sexually assaulting them in a similar manner to the others. All five were black.

The racial component of Holtzclaw’s crimes is immensely disturbing. Not because of what it says about him, but because of what it says about us. Holtzclaw exploited a system that we have established. He made a bet that poor black women from the wrong side of town would be so terrified of a criminal justice system that consistently and unjustly beats them and their families down, that they would avoid willing entry into that system altogether. Or if one slipped through the cracks and reported him, the police wouldn’t care. And he was right.

Until Number 13.

All thirteen women showed immense bravery. But for the next victim, unless she has twelve other people telling the same story, will her bravery be rewarded?

If there are officers out there like Holtzclaw (it would be foolish to assume there aren’t), the landscape of police power and racial powerlessness exists virtually unchanged. Sadly, the conviction of Daniel Holtzclaw is not progress. He was merely a cop who exploited society’s ills to serially commit heinous crimes. His conviction is just a conviction.

9 Comments on this post.

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  • jdgalt
    17 December 2015 at 2:59 pm - Reply
  • MoButterMoBetta
    17 December 2015 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    It wasn’t just the 13 victims, it seems like the GPS route matching of victim TM really set this off. If they didn’t have the GPS route matching, would the police have still believed? Seems doubtful.

  • Domina Elle
    21 December 2015 at 3:21 am - Reply

    What amazes me is that it ONLY took 13. But that’s because I have been very aware for many years now of MANY CASES similar to the Daniel Hortzclaw case and myself and other sex worker rights activists have been SCREAMING to DEAF EARS. But to frame this the way you are? I don’t believe you are hitting the nail on the head. Not when you look at the other cases and those cop predators and their victims. The common deniminator- a predator shielded by his badge and assumed unearned trust, and poor women of all ethnicities who were-are prostitutes, drug addicted, having criminal records that were exploited. None of them felt safe to report. Many victims were white. Many of the cop predators were not white. Some of the worst predator cops in fact. Why did it take OVER 35 Victims until Sergio Alvarez was stopped?! That’s almost three times the amount of victims of Daniel Hortzclaw. Or Alaskan cop Anthony Rollins who was investigated for having sex while on duty long before he would be found guilty of raping over 30 sex workers. Neither of these sick bastards were white.

    Then there’s the reality that detectives, FBI agents, cops, VICE cops- are having sexual contact AS STANDARD PROCEDURE during prostitution investigations which usually lead to the arrest of the person (many are underage but the cop doesn’t know until AFTER the victim is ARRESTED). Why shouldn’t The daniel Hortzclaw’s of the world feel entitled to tell themselves “I’m just doing what my buds over in vice get away with all the time at least I’m not taking them to jail” Ya feel me?

    So yes there is a problem. A HUGE PROBLEM. It’s called CRIMINALIZATION of prostitution. This is what allowed Daniel to do what he did. This is what allows these investigators to get naked, fondled, even sucked and sexed up before they put the handcuffs on (for their own good) and all under the pretense that cops are looking for sex trafficking victims! In recent years more and more funding- BILLIONS in fact, has been funneled to law enforcement and anti trafficking ngo’s and yet all it has really accomplished is more damage in the lives of the people those anti trafficking narratives claimed to be looking to protect and who is really listening to the voices of the victims? Victims of every ethnicity and not one of them should be minimized.

    I hope more awareness will erupt around this important issue and that any action to address it won’t be derailed. The scope of police sexual abuses is VAST and absolutely goes beyond narratives or issues involving race. I want to see that nail hit squarely on its sick head!

    Many cops of all ethnicities have raped prostitutes:

    Minors reporting to deaf ears

    An excellent site which features sickening long lists of rapist cops and other gov officials:


    • Ken Womble
      21 December 2015 at 10:00 am - Reply

      “As for what Holtzclaw’s conviction might mean to victims of rape and their ability to come forward and be believed, I will leave that topic to other writers. It is a subject that is often heavy on bogus statistics and light on productive solution. Suffice to say, there are very real struggles within a system that must accommodate the reporting of this very unique type of crime and one that must adhere to the presumption of innocence and the guarantee of due process for the accused.”

      This issue is important. Just because I decided to set it aside to discuss other issues does not put us at odds.

      • Elle again! Lol
        21 December 2015 at 10:31 am - Reply

        Sex workers don’t believe THEY will have the benefit of due process. The officers word always trumps the woman’s being violated. Criminalized people do not have the benefit of equal protection under the law. The cops do. I hope you’ll research some of the links I posted.

        I don’t think we are at odds. We are on the same team from what I can tell. Just coming from varied perspectives experiences and intelligent exchange and discussion is necessary. If people are polite even better!


  • Elle
    21 December 2015 at 9:54 am - Reply

    Take a look at these cases, cops deputies police chiefs, detectives, etc. who raped children and babies. Look at the punishments! Many don’t even have to register as sex workers! A police chief rapes a 3 year old baby twice and gets PROBATION?! how does this happen!? The child victims of these cop predators are very likely most often relatives or somehow in a position of trust. Some on the list were pimping out children but got very lenient punishment.

    Yes I believe there is a link between the badge and what allows these predators the confidence to offend. I believe the vocation contributes to the problem in multiple ways. Cops are well aware of the power they wield. They operate within a shield of protection. There is no accountability. They are sick people operating in an unhealthy environment which enables the abuse.

    Who is speaking for these children?! Look at the length of the list. It’s an incomplete list! We added up all the offenders up against the law enforcement census. Not good people, it appears we do have a few good apples, though A LOT MORE BAD ONES than many want to accept.


    • Elle again! Lol
      21 December 2015 at 10:34 am - Reply

      Meant to say many don’t need to apply as sex offenders not sex worker. It’s been a long night my brain is shutting down LOL

  • Elle again! Lol
    21 December 2015 at 10:20 am - Reply

    Partial (yet very long) list of cops detectives, chiefs, judges who sexually assaulted and murdered sex workers:


    On a personal note, I’ve had cavity searches used as punishment by cops. Twice, two different states 16 years apart. First NYC, I was barely 18 walking with friends through Brooklyn. We had weird colored hair & strange clothes for that area. Two transit cops showed up and searched us. Found nothing. But since I flexed my rights they arrested me and took me to jail. The arresting officer put me in the men’s holding tank. I am a woman. He made cuntilingus gestures at me. There was no professional decorum. Before letting me go that day, the white Sargent who had been sexually harassing me decided I needed some attitude adjustment, so a black female officer led me into a room where she told me to undress to my panties and bra. She was going to do a cavity search. She left the room for me to undress. What was the point?! I was absolutely shocked, horrified, angry, and I didn’t want to be VIOLATED. so I reacted by acting like I wanted her to do it. I thrust my crotch out to her, I spread my legs and said “come on baby I’ve been hot all day” she ran out of that room. My reaction messed up her program not unlike asking for an off menu item at mcdonalds it always messes them up. 16 yrs later I’m in Tulsa Oklahoma alone driving at about 3AM doing no more than five miles over the limit. I wasn’t aware at the time (I had been living in another state with a license in that state but had lost the copy of that license) years before after I left Tulsa, a roommate who had stolen my ID used it when she was stopped for speeding. Of course she didn’t pay it. So a decade later here I am in Tulsa dealing with her ticket which had ended up with my Oklahoma license suspended. The deputy didn’t care. He impounded my car which had my $900 massage table in it, which at that moment I rightfully feared would be lost to the state. I was poor, no ID, I lost my car out of the situation. So as I’m being processed a black female cop who was processing my belongings asked me with huge attitude “WHATS THIS?!” Talking about my cell phone charger cord. So I replied “where have you been? That’s a cell phone cord, to which she promptly replied “CAVITY SEARCH!” Two additional black female cops too me over into what had to be the drunk tank. In front of all the men present they pulled my skirt up and put on their nifty latex gloves. I reacted the same way as I had done 16 years prior. They don’t like it when you aren’t horrified or upset they need you to react as anyone in their right mind would- disgusted horrified and violated. They couldn’t feed on what I was offering them acting like I actually wanted them to do it and would enjoy it I assure you that was the farthest thing from the truth but it certainly worked in preventing the violation of my body. Those cavity search violations were not being performed because they really believed I was dangerous or had contraband hidden in my vagina. They were absolutely perpetrated to put me in my place to show me who is boss, to dehumanize demoralize and oppress. Having had this happen to me twice in two different states 16 years apart and for such petty reasons with no justification for it whatsoever I really must question how often these cavity searches are abused and I highly doubt that this is a rare or uncommon occurrence. We can add it to the long list of issues concerning police sexual abuses I’m sure. How many people have had a cavity search violation for smarting off to a cop?

  • Alabama Trooper Samuel McHenry Pleads Guilty To Sexual Misconduct Charges
    7 March 2016 at 9:05 am - Reply

    […] recently started to garner widespread media attention, due in no small part to the high-profile Daniel Holtzclaw case, the former Oklahoma City police officer who was convicted in December on 18 counts of sexual […]