When the Daniel Holtzclaw case first broke last year I remember thinking that the coverage of this story will speak volumes about the American media’s capacity for nuanced reporting. It wasn’t a simple case, a bi-racial police officer (White and Asian) accused of serially raping black women who were poor or had criminal records on his beat in the east side of Oklahoma city.
To cover the story would require careful analysis of rape culture, police brutality, class and race. And by all accounts most mainstream media outlets fail horribly in “Intersectionality 101”. Now that the case is over and Holtzclaw has been found guilty, I still find myself dissatisfied with the coverage of the trial, if not the results themselves.
The trial may be over, but justice is still in deliberation.
Last night after almost four days of jury deliberations an Oklahoma City jury found former officer Daniel Holtzclaw guilty of 18 of 36 counts of sexual assault, battery, rape and lewd conduct.
Using some back-of-the-envelope math, he’s racked up about 263 years of jail time which is just short of how long the legal rape of black women by white men lasted in America. The fact that this conviction came on Holtzclaw’s 29th birthday, the fact that this conviction came from an all-white mostly male jury (8 men and 4 women) and that fact that Holtzclaw was crying hysterically and almost pulled a Suge Knight in the courtroom could have been enough to give some catharsis or solace.
But it didn’t. And it shouldn't.
Press coverage of these trials plays an important role in how public opinion is changed, how public policy is formed and in many cases it has given victims the courage to come forward with their stories.
Only a few digital outlets paid any attention to this case before the verdict (including Buzzfeed and NBCBLK). On television, the only place that gave this case the attention and focus it deserved was Roland Martin on TV One, a point made passionately by one of the victims' spokespersons at the post verdict press conference on Friday.
While there was plenty of ugliness, invective and ignorance spewed during the ubiquitous Zimmerman trial coverage, important conversations were taking place. Political leaders were forced to address racial profiling and policies like “Stand Your Ground” became a part of the national conversation, none of which would have happened without adequate coverage. The same can be said of the trials surrounding Darren Wilson, Eric Garner, and even Michael Dunn.
The trial of Daniel Holtzclaw would have been a great opportunity to delve into the epidemic of sexual assault on women of color, inconsistencies in the prosecution of law enforcement accused of sexual assault and even discriminatory jury selection.
Instead, there was literally more press coverage of the verdict than at any point of the trail. Consequently the public is just as ignorant today about the problems highlighted by this trial as it was before Daniel Holtzclaw was arrested last year.
Any celebration of this verdict may overshadow the serious problems that still exist in the judicial system and the racism that infects it.
The other reason this verdict doesn't give solace is because a full victory has yet to be achieved. As many of the victims pointed out during their press conference on Friday morning, the trial may be over, but justice is still in deliberation. There will be several civil suits against the city, the police department and possibly the state.
There are questions to be answered about when the police knew of Holtzclaw's behavior, how quickly they acted and why were previous complaints against the officer ignored? There is still a sentencing hearing in January where there is a possibility that the sentence could be reduced or altered or Holtzclaw could be remanded to some cushy prison.
As a former police officer he probably could not be placed in gen pop but he certainly should not get to go to OZ either.
Beyond the impending legal issues, any celebration of this verdict may overshadow the serious problems that still exist in the judicial system and the racism that infects it. Holtzclaw was convicted on 18 of 36 counts. That means the jurors didn’t believe some of the 13 victims who testified on the stand. That means a jury could clearly see a police officer was involved in a deliberate organized process of raping poor black women but somehow, some way, some of the victims still didn’t pass the smell test for this jury. It’s all rather shocking until you re-consider the fact that this was an all-white jury.
Rather than a victory this result should be viewed with a sigh of relief, because demographically and structurally this was not a jury that was remotely reflective of the community in which the crimes were committed.
Overall, Americans who care about racial justice and police accountability can find some joy in the results of the Holtzclaw case verdict, but I remain comfortably skeptical.
In a media environment dominated by screaming bigots, press crushes into terrorist’s living rooms and presidential candidates who have no business running the country I guess there was no time to cover one of the most crucial Black Lives Matter and #RapeCulture trials in American history.
No time to piece through the dangerous way in which racial politics, jury rigging and police bias could have given us a much different result. No time to look seriously about the healing process and the steps ahead to make the victims whole.
For me, until these conversations occur, until this analysis comes about, until this justice is done, I’ll have no time to celebrate this verdict.