By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
Under the banner #BlackWomenMatter, a coalition of activists led by OKC Artists for Justice plans to peacefully protest against Daniel Holtzclaw near the Oklahoma County District Court. Inside, the former Oklahoma City, Okla., officer is standing trial before an all-White jury on accusations he sexually assaulted 13 Black women and girls while on duty.
The 28-year-old, whose trial began on Oct. 26, faces life in prison if convicted. He’s charged with 36 felony counts, including eight counts of rape, and charges of sexual battery, sodomy, stalking, and other sex crimes. His alleged victims, a 17-year-old and mostly middle-aged women in their 40’s to 50’s, were vulnerable people from the East Side, a predominantly Black and low-income area in Oklahoma City.
Prosecutors say he was finally busted after a 57-year-old, whom he thought was another victim who would not speak out, reported that she was assaulted immediately, activists told The Final Call. When the news broke, and particularly at trial, Tyral Muhammad learned his stepdaughter was among the alleged victims.
She was the second witness to testify. Mr. Holtzclaw sexually assaulted her while she was handcuffed to a hospital bed, she testified. He coerced her to perform oral sex, she charged.
“He called my wife for her from his cell phone, trying to really get cool by telling her he’s gotta take her to jail because another officer saw it happen,” her stepfather said in a calm, measured tone.
Mr. Holtzclaw, who has been fired, said he’d make the daughter’s bond as cheap as possible, and when it was time for her to go to court, he wouldn’t show up, according to Mr. Muhammad.
“Just really trying to woo my daughter, but I just found all this out in court. He made a reference to have you ever had a White penis. … He’s the one who injected race into this. They say we’re always trying to play the race card, but he put it in there when he said that. He’s extremely sick. I don’t know how his mother and father could show up to court,” Tyral Muhammad said.
He told The Final Call he was very angry because he didn’t know what had happened. But he didn’t want his anger to overshadow what happened. The ordeal has forever impacted his family, he said.
“After the initial encounter he continued to basically stalk her, calling her on the phone, they had Facebook transactions, he even was asking her to come meet him, come out to his house and things like that,” the stepfather continued. Tyral Muhammad said the cop even went to his home seeking his daughter while he was at work.
According to another witness, he told The Final Call, a GPS tracker found Mr. Holtzclaw allegedly made 40 stops at one victim’s home, and even made her boyfriend leave. She moved out of town just to get away from the officer, Tyral Muhammad said.
“Another thing that disturbed me is we all know that the attorneys and prosecutors belong to the same country club and golf together. That’s not a secret … but I think it’s very disrespectful to the victims to see the prosecutor and the defense attorney with their arms around each other in a huddle at the judge’s desk,” he said.
“If the sisters thinking you’re defending them, then you should at least act like this is your enemy, at least, not your friend in any way in the presence of them in the courtroom. They’re just too cordial with each other,” Tyral Muhammad complained.
Defense Attorney Scott Adams is a well-known lawyer in the city, has represented known drug dealers in the Black community and has gotten wealthy, he continued. “It’s like a slap in the face for him to now try to be charging them as ‘low-life’ drug dealers when he got rich off dealing with drug dealers.”
As the trial continues, so does he and his wife’s efforts to piece their daughter’s life back together.
When the assaults were taking place, Tyral Muhammad said he could tell something was going on and could see a change. He didn’t know what was happening.
“Now that I think back, I could tell why there was a difference in her. She’s kind of independent, but she was sticking around the house more. I didn’t think nothing of it, but I can piece all of those things together,” he added.
“She was hanging with her mother closer. She seemed like she was appreciating the love in the house, family. And I think that Sandra Bland thing brought it back up, because she started getting paranoid. After he got arrested and everything, she got real paranoid, extremely paranoid,” he said.
His daughter went through three jobs, because when police patronized restaurants she worked in, she became uncomfortable. “She was thinking they could have been his friends, which they could have been, or if they were just coming up there to get something to eat, but they were freaking her out. She would quit and wouldn’t go back,” he said.
Finally, she was able to get a job that didn’t involve public walk-ins.
Activists insist other women reported Mr. Holtzclaw’s assaults but there wasn’t much follow up. That’s exactly what Mr. Holtzclaw banked on when he preyed upon these women, activists told The Final Call.
“He did that because he knew those women were less likely to report and if they did report, they were less likely to be believed,” said Grace Franklin of OKC Artists for Justice.
The East Side of Oklahoma City is like any Black side of town, the artist and activist said, comprised of middle class women, professional women, business owners, homeowners, those with low incomes and those addicted to drugs–who have a higher probability of encounters with the criminal justice system, the activist stated.
“That’s where he was. He wasn’t all over the East Side. He was in a very specific portion of the African-American community. That makes me angry, because we know when it comes to sexual assault, the women that are in a certain situation, when you are threatened as a woman with going to jail or getting your children taken, if you have already had contact with the system and don’t have the financial means to get out of jail if you go, your reaction to that is what he was preying on,” Ms. Franklin argued.
“He knew that they would be easily attacked. I want to make another thing clear: This is not an issue of they did something to get out of something.”
The women often had contact with law enforcement or were accused of using drugs, prostitution or other crimes, which made them vulnerable to a gun-toting cop, said analysts.
Mr. Holtzclaw has denied all charges, saying there was no sexual contact whatsoever, but the women’s testimonies are damning.
“You have women reporting they were handcuffed to a bed in a hospital room and he penetrated them with his finger. He is saying that none of that happened … but we had an officer, per GPS, per their own evidence, ’cause that is where we get a lot of evidence is internally from the police department.”
She questioned the lack of accountability for officers by the police department. “If you are supposed to be on 2nd Street but you’re on 10th Street for 15 to 20 minutes, there is nobody watching you. There is nobody that says, ‘Hey! Why do you keep running this person’s name if you haven’t stopped them? What are you doing?’ ”
“I mean, it was really scary when you think about it the brazenness of what he was doing. This was in broad daylight, you know, the fact where you will have one of our grandmothers, one of our women, a 57-year-old woman, pull over and making her lift her shirt, pull down her pants and making her do things to you sexually … That is the testimony of the first witness I think shocked people,” Ms. Franklin continued.
Like many, she feels there are more victims. She wonders if there may be other predators in law enforcement. “I was very concerned because I live on the East Side. I live on that side of town. My mother lives on that side of town. My family lives on that side of town. I have sisters and nieces. It made me feel very unprotected.”
Ashley Morrison, a sexual assault survivor and cultural activist in Oklahoma, said while she was emotionally shocked to learn what happened she wasn’t at all shocked that it happened. People in power aren’t immune from committing crimes and victimizing others, she said.
She was struck by Tyral Muhammad’s daughter’s statements that Mr. Holtzclaw made me feel like he was her friend, like he could be trusted.
One who has experienced sexual violence understands that’s a preparatory technique used by predators, she said.
Blacks and people of color must be present for the survivors in the courtroom and around the courthouse, she said.
“They need to be present on social media, reflecting that power back to them and confirming, ‘Yes! We believe you. Yes! You are powerful. Yes! You are queens. We are confirming and recognize that you have been victimized, but that is not all that you are and that is not all that composes you as an individual,’ ” Ms. Morrison added.
Mr. Holtzclaw’s trial is expected to last through December. According to Terry Muhammad, the Nation of Islam Study Group Coordinator in Oklahoma City and the Fruit of Islam, male members of the Nation of Islam, intend to be in court the entire time.
Mr. Holtzclaw’s fellow officers are giving him huge support, and even friends from other cities are flying in to counter victims’ charges, Terry Muhammad said. “I don’t understand how you can say that’s not him when you haven’t been around this person,” he stated.
Likewise, he urged people to spread news about the case and show up at trial to support the victims. A Black radio show host has been covering the trial, for instance, but not to the fullest of his abilities for health reasons, he explained.
“Black people in Oklahoma City really are a little timid in terms of not getting involved,” Terry Muhammad, who once lived and owned a successful restaurant in Inglewood, Calif., told The Final Call.
“Everybody’s trying to make it and afraid that it might cost them,” he said. He acknowledged there are a few who are really involved and not necessarily tied down to jobs where they can be free that have been active. “Our biggest problem is those people who are free, who are retired and are able to get out, they’re just not getting out,” he said.
People must reject the character assassination these women are under, he said. For instance, he said, local news outler jumped on the issue one of the victims showed up to court on drugs, but that doesn’t justify or change the reality that an officer of the law assaulted her while on duty.
“I can understand. You don’t know what kind of trauma it has caused these women. It’s PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and then you see what’s going on with other women, so by the time you get there, you’re trying to get away from it, get this out of your mind, to mask your pain. One of the things about PTSD is drug use,” Terry Muhammad said.