While the American public obsesses day after day about each and every scandalous act involving an athlete in the NFL, with even the most meticulous data being collected and analysed many times over, they seem to be less concerned about a similar, possibly more widespread, pattern of behavior by officers of the law, the same people entrusted with ensuring public safety and accountability. After several arrests occurred in the past month alone of police officers accused of sexually assaulting, kidnapping, or raping multiple women (four of them in Oklahoma), many observers are quite rightly inquiring about how common such crimes committed by law enforcement officers are. Unfortunately it is rather impossible to say for certain how common sexual assault by cops truly is because there exist no national database from which accurate statistics can be derived. In fact this nation has shown itself particularly inefficient when it comes to tallying or keeping track of any crimes committed by cops, let alone taking the further of holding them accountable. If a national debate can ensue around the issue of domestic battery and criminality in the National Football League, then surely it should be possible to have that same debate regarding issues of rape and sexual abuse in the nation’s police departments.
Probably the most well-known of the most recent incidents coming to light is that of 27 year-old Daniel Holtzclaw of the Oklahoma City Police Department, who stands accused of abusing not one, not two, not even six different African American women while on-duty, but a total of ten! (*) He was arrested on Thursday, August 21 after a sixth complaint was made about him, the earliest going back to at least June 18. Taken together with the latest charges filed on August 26, they amount to a total of twenty-six charges in all. These include, among others, burglary, stalking, 4 counts of rape, 5 counts of sexual battery, 5 counts of “forcible oral sodomy”, and 5 counts of indecent exposure. All ten of his victims were Black women aged 34-58. According to NewsOne, “Holtzclaw picked some of the women up off the street, pulled others over at traffic stops and assaulted them in his patrol car”. In a case back in March unknown to anyone else at the time, Holtzclaw broke into a woman’s home, threatened to shoot her boyfriend if he didn’t leave, and after driving the woman’s boyfriend out at gun-point he proceeded to rape her repeatedly. In this case, as with others, Holtzclaw “threatened his victims with arrest or physical punishment in order to get away with sexual assault”.
One might presume that all members of the community might feel safer having this man behind bars and off the streets while the case is still pending. But as is so often the case with white police officers who commit heinous crimes against Black women and men, a sizable portion of the white public rallied to the cop’s defense. Although Holtzclaw’s initial bond was set for $5 million, the always narcissistic Fraternal Order of Police voiced outrage and had their supporters quickly organize petitions and fundraisers all in support of a cop who apparently practices no restraint when it comes to his obsession with tormenting the bodies of Black women. Holtzclaw’s supporters even set up an online Go Fund Me campaign, just as was done in the case of the murderer cop Darren Wilson. Holtzclaw’s supporters were able to collect $7,000 for his bail before it was shut off. Campaigns like these which reward cops for monstrous behavior shows how the most ardent defenders of the American Police State don’t even remotely care about public safety or justice at all. Their primary concern is maintaining their positions of power and societal privilege, and they see “enforcing the law” merely as a means of policing and regulating every aspect of Black people’s lives.
Daniel Holtzclaw’s defense attorney Scott Adams, undoubtedly with the assistance of the Oklahoma City F.O.P., put enough pressure on the district Judge so that his bail was lowered from $5 million to $500,000. Two days later, on September 5, Holtzclaw was released after his bond was paid, and he was allowed to take up residence at the home of his father who just so happens to be a lieutenant at a nearby police department. “It’s important for Daniel to be out here and be able to help us assist in his defense,” says defense attorney Adams. That the same courtesy is not afforded to those accused of much lesser crimes, but are unable to pay the expensive bond or hire a top defense attorney, speaks volumes about how wickedly corrupt our system is.
Not even a full month went by from the time of Daniel Holtzclaw’s arrest before two additional officers in the same state were arrested and charged under similar circumstances. According to CBS News a state trooper by the name of Eric Roberts “was arrested Sept. 15 on criminal complaints of kidnapping, rape and other crimes after three women alleged Roberts sexually assaulted them while he was on duty.” Then came news on September 17 that a Tulsa County Sheriff’s Deputy named Gerald Nuckolls had been arrested and “charged with two counts of sexual battery, indecent exposure and outraging public decency.” The arrest came as a result of an investigation which began after a woman reported how, in the early morning hours of September 16, Nuckolls arrived at her home and insisted he be allowed to search the house for drugs, to which she complied. Once they went into the garage, however, “he asked if she was wearing a bra, pulled up her dress and began to touch himself before he left.” As he was leaving, he left her with the message that he would return to her residence after he got off work in order “to check on her.” Upon subsequently being questioned by investigators, Nuckolls confessed to having previously been involved in at least 6 similar incidents with women while he was on duty. (NOTE: At the time of this writing, the arrest of yet another former law enforcement officer in Oklahoma was reported, this time for the alleged rape of a minor in 2011-2012.)
So what advice do the people who are supposed to know Oklahoma law better than anyone recommend for women who fear interacting with police? Tulsa Attorney Clark Brewster believes that while the officer “has a right to ask you to exit the car for safety reasons”, he thinks that a woman also has “a right to ask whether that is necessary, in a polite way, and ask him why he wants you to exit the car.” Brewster’s advice of course fails to address what she is supposed to do when the officer subsequently goes into a fit of rage and demands entry into her vehicle.
As inadequate as Brewster’s words may be, they don’t even come close to rivaling the absurdity of Oklahoma Highway Patrol Captain George Brown’s “advice” for women. First, Brown told NBC-affiliate KJRH that “asking a person to get out the car is almost always a safety precaution for both the driver and the officer”, which doesn’t really do a whole lot of good for women who are potentially about to be raped by an officer asking them to step out of their vehicle. But concern over this is apparently, in Captain Brown’s words, just the result of “some people being hypersensitive to this stuff now”. After all, “There are entirely more good officers than there are the few bad apples that exist out there”. (Where have I heard this before?) But the one absolutely sure way women can avoid ever being raped or sexually harassed is very simple, says the empathetic Highway Patrol Captain: Just “follow the law in the first place so you don’t get pulled over.” And there you have it!
When the Oklahoma Highway Patrol Captain himself indulges in such obvious victim-blaming, it’s not all that difficult to understand the mind-frame necessary for so many police officers to feel empowered enough to do whatever the hell they please and feel completely justified in doing so. Oklahoma’s police problems are not Oklahoma’s alone. They are symptoms of a truly national corruptness, an abuse of authority which is allowed to wreak havoc on the lives of whoever lives under it. Recently a law enforcement officer posting in the comments section of the Huffington Post claimed cops were “statistically less of a threat” to public safety than most people, and furthermore that “y’all are more dangerous and likely to be involved in crime than us”. But how could he possibly know that since there are no national statistics demonstrating how prevalent corruption, violence, murder and sexual abuse are among police officers in the first place? Perhaps such record-keeping would be just too much for us to expect from the powers that be in Washington D.C. Consider this: The so-called “Crime Control Act” of 1994 contained a provision in it “requiring the attorney general to collect the data and publish an annual report on… statistics on police shootings and use of nondeadly force”, yet no such annual report has ever been collected by any of the United States Attorney Generals, neither Democrat or Republican. Considering how every arm of government at every level seemingly conspires to cover up violent deaths at the hands of police, should we really expect them to care about sexual assault victims as well?
I leave you with this quote from feminist author Inga Muscio:
“What happens to people living in a society where everyone in power is lying, stealing, cheating and killing, and in our hearts we all know this, but the consequences of facing all these lies are so monstrous, we keep on hoping that maybe the corporate government administration and media are on the level with us this time. Americans remind me of survivors of domestic abuse. This is always the hope that this is the very, very, very last time one’s ribs get re-broken again.”
* As you might have expected, this is not the first time Officer Daniel Holtzclaw acted with immense cruelty as he was on duty. Earlier this year Holtzclaw along with three other Oklahoma City police officers – Jeffrey Dutton, Gregory Franklin, and Mohammad Tabia – were responding to an emergency phone call made by a 39 year-old Black man named Clifton Armstrong, “who suffered from paranoia and schizophrenia”. Armstrong said he was calling “for medical assistance”, but when the four cops arrived and tried to get him to go into the back of their squad car, he declined. So they “proceeded to hogtie Armstrong into submission using belts. He was declared dead shortly afterward“. Not surprisingly, a subsequent “internal investigation” exonerated all four officers.