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Pt. 2: Black Women at the Intersection: Holtzclaw Case Links #BlackLivesMatter & Anti-Rape Struggles

Web ExclusiveDecember 16, 2015
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In Part 2 of our conversation about the Daniel Holtzclaw verdict, UCLA and Columbia University law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw talks about the lack of attention on sexual abuse by police officers. Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma City police officer, was accused of serial rape against African-American women. He was convicted by an all-white jury last week of rape and other charges against eight of the 13 women who accused him.

“Sexual abuse is the second and third most common complaint against police officers, but it’s just not a part of our conversation about police abuse, and it’s not a part of our conversation about sexual abuse,” Crenshaw says. “So this is an intersectional issue between these two movements, and these women are women who should be able to bring together Black Lives Matter and that kind of advocacy and anti-rape advocacy. That’s why this case is so important.”

We are also joined by Candace Liger and Grace Franklin, co-founders of OKC Artists for Justice, an Oklahoma City-based advocacy group founded around the Holtzclaw case.

To see Part 1 of the conversation, click here.

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Web ExclusiveJan 21, 2016Daniel Holtzclaw Sentenced to 263 Consecutive Years in Prison for Raping Black Women
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. A former Oklahoma City police officer has been convicted in the serial rapes of mostly African-American women. Daniel Holtzclaw carried out the assaults while on duty after threatening victims with arrest if they didn’t comply with his sexual demands. On Thursday, a jury found him guilty on 18 counts. Thirteen victims testified during the trial, each with similar stories of threats, rape and sexual assault. They ranged in ages from 17 to 57. All but one were African-American. Holtzclaw faces up to life in prison when he’s sentenced in January. The question is: Will he serve his sentence consecutively or concurrently? Could be the difference of something like 28 years or hundreds of years.

We’re joined by three guests to continue our conversation. Kimberlé Crenshaw joins us in New York, law professor at UCLA and Columbia University, the founding—the founder of the African American Policy Forum. In Oklahoma City, we’re joined by Candace Liger and Grace Franklin, co-founders of OKC Artists for Justice, an Oklahoma City-based advocacy group, which was founded specifically around this case of Officer Daniel Holtzclaw.

In Part 1 of our conversation, Professor Crenshaw, we talked about the bail being reduced. We talked about him being out under sort of house arrest at home. We talked about some of the women being brought in in shackles who would testify against him, because they were in jail, while he sat at the defendant’s table in a suit. But in eight cases, he was found guilty, though 13 different women testified. How do those women feel, the women who testified but in their cases he wasn’t found guilty of rape or sexual assault?

KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Well, we can only imagine, you know, how they feel. We know that, across the board, even when rapists are convicted, the level of post-traumatic stress, the disruption of their lives, all of these things are still ongoing challenges that they have to face, which is one of the reasons why it won’t be over even after the sentencing. Much of the attention now has to be focused on those 13 women—and countless others who may have also been impacted.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me put the question to Grace Franklin, who’s in Oklahoma City, works with some of the victims. Thirteen women testified. Eight of them—in eight of their cases, there was a finding of guilt in the case of Officer Daniel Holtzclaw. What happens with these other women? What are they saying? Are they sorry they testified? Where do they go from here?

GRACE FRANKLIN: I think there’s a feeling of disappointment for those women. They did not receive justice in that verdict. So, I have not heard that any of them regret testifying. Although the trial was a very personal and difficult situation for them, I think they are proud of themselves for testifying. I think they are just disappointed in that they did not get the verdict in their cases, because their cases were strong, as well. They had GPS evidence, AVL evidence, just like the other survivors. So, for them, the next step for many of them are different forms of lawsuits and also continuing after care. We are talking about sexual assault and rape, and these women still need some counseling. They’ll need continued care. And so, hopefully, all of those women will receive that. And we know that the five that didn’t receive the conviction are definitely getting that, and all of them have been offered those services. So, for those women who didn’t receive justice, you know, the fight continues.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to 57-year-old Jannie Ligons. She was the first woman to come forward—that we know of—to report being assaulted by Officer Daniel Holtzclaw. At a news conference the day after Holtzclaw’s guilty verdict was announced, she spoke about the attack.

JANNIE LIGONS: I was violated in June by a police officer. He stopped me on 50th and Lincoln for no reason whatsoever, pulled me over and fondled me and did certain things to me. I was out there alone and helpless, didn’t know what to do. And in my mind, all I could think, that he was going to shoot me, he was going to kill me. He did things to me that I didn’t think a police officer would do. He made me perform oral, or sodomy, sex on him. I didn’t know what to do. I was so afraid. I was afraid for my life. I kept begging him, “Sir, please don’t make me do this. Don’t make me do this, sir.”

AMY GOODMAN: So, again, that was Jannie Ligons, 57 years old, the oldest of the women who came forward, between 17 and 57 years old. And she clearly, going to the police, which was very risky, since he was a police officer, got the cases started against him, although—and this is what I wanted to ask Candace Liger about—The Guardian newspaper says that he was already under investigation. So who came forward before? Why was he under investigation? And why wasn’t he taken off the street, given that it now looks like a number of these cases, the assaults took place while he was being investigated?

CANDACE LIGER: You know, I think that’s really interesting as to who would have come before. And I think what would be even more interesting is how the question of their credibility played into how detailed they were into the investigation. Jannie Ligons was a little different, because she didn’t have the same type of criminal pasts, vulnerabilities, that maybe some of the other women did. And so, I think right now the question is: How do you determine which woman is credible and which woman isn’t, which woman has a story that’s worth investigating? And so, the question is: With the police department, what is the procedure when a officer is under investigation, particularly revolving around sexual assault? Does he still have the same privileges to be on the streets and stop the same type of suspects? Does he still have the ability to perform his job with all of the duties, even though he’s under investigation? And so, I think there’s a lot of questions to be asked involving the police department and how well they actually looked into those other incidents that were reported.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, I mean, we’re just talking about the time frame of December 2013 to June 2014. Professor Crenshaw, how long was he an officer? What is his record? Are there women before that?

KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Yeah, and this is something that we don’t—we don’t know if there are other victims. I mean, the way that he was caught was the police investigators actually went backwards to find out. Many of the women that he would pull over, he would run a check on them. Then he would assault, but then he wouldn’t arrest them. So they went back to find the women that he had run a check on, and that’s how they found out all of the other 12 victims. So, this is something that he could have been doing over—I think he was on the force for three years. But I would say, more broadly, there is the reality that sexual abuse is the second and third most common complaint against police officers, but it’s just not a part of our conversation about police abuse, and it’s not a part of our conversation about sexual abuse. So this is an intersectional issue between these two movements, and these women are women who should be able to bring together Black Lives Matter and that kind of advocacy and anti-rape kind of advocacy. That’s why this case is so important. So many people are being called down to Oklahoma City on January the 21st to actually make this case more visible and make police departments more accountable. Most of them don’t even publish statistics and collect information about sexual abuse.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about this. The Associated Press recently reported at least a thousand officers nationwide have lost their badges over a six-year period for sexual misconduct, including rape and sodomy. The AP said the number is unquestionably an underestimate, because it does not include any figures from some states, including California and New York. Chief Bernadette DiPino of the Sarasota Police Department in Florida said, quote, “It’s happening probably in every law enforcement agency across the country. It’s so underreported and people are scared that if they call and complain about a police officer, they think every other police officer is going to be then out to get them.” Again, that’s Chief Bernadette DiPino of the Sarasota Police Department in Florida. I’d like you to respond to that. And then, Professor Crenshaw, if you can talk about the piece you did for The Washington Post, “Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait”? That may be a term a lot of people know—


AMY GOODMAN: —but also a lot of people are new to it.

KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Yes. So, you know, it is an undercount, because let’s think about it. Number one, rape is one of the most underreported crimes across the board. Let’s just start there. Then you take into account that the people that you would report it to are the very departments that actually underwrote and authorized and permitted certain officers, who shouldn’t be on the force in the first place, to actually be perpetrators. So, we can only imagine how many more rapes and other forms of sexual assault actually occurred. And then, on top of that, this study that was done doesn’t include states that don’t decertify officers for abuse. So, this is probably just the tip of an iceberg. And one of the reasons why we don’t know so much about it is because those women who are most likely to encounter the police are women who are socially not seen as valuable women. They’re black women. They’re poor women. They’re homeless women. They’re women who may have worked in the sex trade. They’re women who are chemically dependent. And all of them—

AMY GOODMAN: And Holtzclaw would run their records.

KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Run their records to see.

AMY GOODMAN: So he would see who to attack.

KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: And that’s what a predator does. A predator, across the board, uses their institutional authority. But when you think about how much authority that police officers have, how much discretion they have, how much credibility they have compared to anyone else, then you have a prescription for mass victimization, with nobody paying attention to it. So this is why intersectionality matters, in both ways. These women are more victimized and more vulnerable because of all of the things that they are. But then, on top of it, they’re vulnerability isn’t significant to the mass media. It isn’t significant to some of the movements. It’s not significant to officials who are supposed to be responsible. So if you look at the institutions that actually stepped up here, it’s local organizers, like Candace and Grace. It’s The Guardian, a newspaper somewhere else. And it’s a few reporters, like Barbara Arnwine on Igniting Change and Roland Martin. So, it’s—intersectionality draws attention to not only the victimization, but the consequences of this victimization not being at the center of any particular movement.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Grace Franklin, I wanted to go to this issue. You formed a new organization, right? You formed OKC Artists for Justice to deal with this case, the case of Holtzclaw. Did you turn to other women’s groups, human rights groups, criminal justice groups, before you formed your own, to see who would work on this case with you?

GRACE FRANKLIN: Well, initially, Candace and I formed the group together and then extended—we then contacted other women’s groups and larger organizations. The responses that we got, in general, were simply “Sit back, wait, we’ll handle it, we’ll get to it,” or “Sit back and wait, thank you for bringing this information to us, we’re going to show you how it works.” And at that time, we had such a sense of urgency. We didn’t understand the lackadaisical consideration of this case. So we decided, after reaching out to about three large organizations, that we were just going to go ahead and start, without anybody, without any permission, and just advocate for these women the best way we know how, which is to raise voices for them and make it more aware and keep it in the local media and try to reach out to national media. We didn’t have time to wait for the bigger organizations to do what they should have been doing without us even asking. So, you know, it really was about these women. You know, these women are not the women that are—that usually fall under the larger umbrella for the bigger organizations, because they don’t fit the narrative. So when you have women who don’t fit the narrative, who stands up for those women? It should be all organizations, women organizations particularly. But that doesn’t always happen, and we know that. So we decided to go ahead and make the move, do advocacy for these women and just continue to move this case forward and keep it in the light.

AMY GOODMAN: Candace Liger, what about religious institutions? What about churches, mosques, synagogues, the black church?

CANDACE LIGER: Well, initially, like Grace said, we only reached out to a few institutions. When we saw that their input wasn’t going to be immediate, we decided to go ahead and press forward. Later on, after the all-white jury came into the media, that actually sparked a lot of the media attention, which also brought some of the black church members up front, such as Jesse Jackson, who helped organize getting people actually in the courtroom to support the victims, so the survivors can see someone there. But, you know, most historical movements kind of start within the black church, within the black community. And there are over a hundred black churches on the northeast side of Oklahoma City. And I think it raised a very pertinent question as far as what is the black church’s role in handling cases, especially such as this of sexual assault. Of course, the women make a majority of the congregations of these churches. The women are also the ones that are, you know, behind the scenes, putting in work, making the food, so on and so forth. So, women in the church is a—they have a vital component.

So, we ended up meeting with a lot of the black church leaders in Oklahoma, and of course they want to do something. I think now the conversation is really kind of educating about sexual assault, about rape culture, having these conversations within the church so they can understand that these things actually happen, that these are experiences women in the church have to go through, and there’s trauma related to that, and they need a source to be able to come to for help. And so, those conversations have to happen so they have a better understanding of what the overall role of the church is, especially in a case like this.

AMY GOODMAN: Candace Liger, you, yourself, are a sexual assault survivor. How did—how has this case affected you, based on your own experience and other women in Artists for Justice?

CANDACE LIGER: You know, subconsciously, I didn’t really think about my own—my own experiences, until much later. I think any time that there is a question of sexual assault, especially involving these black vulnerable women, we kind of automatically put ourselves in their position. We actually advocated for these women for over a year, until we posed the question to each other within the group: How many here have actually been victims of sexual assault? And when everybody raised their hand, I got—then chills just shot down my spine, because, you know, even though we were a group of women that came together to advocate for other women, we had still not had the conversation. We had still not provided that type of transparency to each other. So, part of the education in this case is learning that that conversation has to be had, we have to talk about these experiences, and even more so, that all of us are vulnerable at any point. And so, having these conversations and proceeding forward with the knowledge that we can heal and move forward and use each other’s strength as forces to keep going, I think that’s really important. So, yeah, I think about—I think about the trauma that I’ve experienced as a sexual assault survivor multiple times, and I know how difficult it is to share your story and to attempt to get your power back in doing that.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, attorneys for seven of the 13 women who accused Holtzclaw in the criminal case asked a federal judge to allow a civil case to move forward. I wanted to ask, on this issue of the criminal case—right at the end of Part 1 of our conversation, Candace, you were explaining that—about the sentence. It will be in January. The sentencing of Holtzclaw could be 28 years, could be hundreds of years. Are you organizing around this?

CANDACE LIGER: Yeah. So, we want to make sure that people understand that it’s not over yet. And not only is it not over just for the sentencing, it’s not over for the victims and how they will move past the trauma. But specifically for the sentencing, we want to make sure that the charges are run consecutively, so he’s serving each one of the charges individually to equate to 263 years. Worst-case scenario, which is usually not the narrative as far as Oklahoma judicial proceedings are concerned, that they will run concurrently, and it would only be 28-and-a-half years that he would actually serve. So, it’s not over yet. It’s pretty much the movement that we want to make sure that goes into the new year, that until that sentencing date actually happens, until the judge actually hands down this is how long he’s expected to serve, then we have to keep raising our voices. We have to continue advocating for these women and advocating for justice at large.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Kimberlé Crenshaw, fitting this into the Black Lives Matter movement?

KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Yeah, so, you know, one of the things that I think we’ve learned from Black Lives Matter is that visibility is the prerequisite for accountability. So one of the things that we’re hoping that will happen in this six-weeks period is that this case is far more visible, that there will be far more reports about the broader problem of police abuse, far more reports about how particular black women are vulnerable to that, and that more women will be encouraged to come out and tell their stories. So, Say Her Name is part of this campaign. We traveled down to Oklahoma City to join with Candace and with all the other organizers, and we’re hoping to go back on the 20th. And we’re hoping that women’s groups, anti-police violence groups, groups that are concerned about police abuse, as well as sexual abuse, lift up this case, travel there if they can, have events on the day of the sentencing, so that women are encouraged to come forward, and that we can make police officers accountable. We don’t know what the policies are for most police departments. They don’t have a zero-tolerance policy. And that’s one of the things that can come out of this tragedy.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us, Kimberlé Crenshaw, law professor at UCLA and Columbia University; Candace Liger and Grace Franklin, co-founders of OKC Artists for Justice in Oklahoma City. We will, of course, continue to follow this case. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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Daniel Holtzclaw Sentenced to 263 Consecutive Years in Prison for Raping Black Women

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