The last time a woman made national headlines regarding police violence was Sandra Bland. Bland made headlines because she was black and a woman, and the dash-cam footage of the confrontation with an officer was released. After the story broke, the female leaders of the local and national Black Lives Matter movement rightfully centered black women in the fight for social justice. Before that, anti-police brutality campaigns, by and large, revolved around black men as victims of police brutality. The encounters protested are captured via smart phones and dash/body-cams.
So is there police violence that isn’t being filmed that we aren’t seeing in the mainstream? Turns out: of course there is! You didn’t actually trust your local PD, did you? Violence permeates through police forces like it’s their job. Or something.
This week, an all white jury is deliberating over a police officer named Daniel Holtzclaw from the Oklahoma City Police Department, on trial for 36 counts including rape and sexual battery. The victims he chose were a specific group of women: vulnerable black women.
The Washington Post reported that in the closing arguments of the trial, the prosecutor said, “Holtzclaw targeted drug addicts and other women with felony records who he could intimidate with threats of being jailed, in order to prevent them from reporting the assaults to authorities.”
Vulnerability is the common denominator when police target their victims. It isn’t a coincidence that sexual violence against women by police is an epidemic which has been thoroughly swept under the rug. The current, cyclical police brutality protests have deep connections to the prevalence of smart phones and visibility. Racist cops are shooting poor people of color in broad daylight for anyone watching to videotape. Though, even after clear proof of misconduct (read: murder) is found in these videos, police drag out the investigations for years, cover-up other evidence, spin the story, and blame the victim.Where does justice start if the public has no reason to believe something is wrong?
If we didn’t have videos of police executions, more people than just the Fox News watchers would eat up the stories that the victims of murder were actually threats. So when police brutalize and sexually attack women in private, what is everyone supposed to do about it? This officer in particular targeted women who are especially vulnerable for a number of reasons, and that’s what abusers and rapists do: target vulnerable members of our society. Women. Women in poverty. Women of color. Women they can easily manipulate, and have power over. It escapes headlines, like most rape and domestic abuse news does, because it’s more insidious than public execution.
The whole phenomenon of cops being afraid to ‘do their jobs’ because they might end up as the next viral video is a clear message: they are terrified of being held accountable for their abusive behavior. Everyone bearing witness to their actions makes powerless victims, and bystanders everywhere, less vulnerable, even if by just small fractions at a time. This is because abusers in power never feared the consequences from their victims, who they choose very carefully, it’s the feared consequences from people just like them. Loss of power. Public acknowledgement and shame. Arrest. Incarceration. Prison culture and the prevalence of rape, among other forms of violence.
The chances of being caught are far less when the acts of violence are committed privately. It’s in houses, on front porches at night, it’s coercive, and it’s in their own bedrooms. CopBlock reports:
“According to several organizations, including the Battered Women’s Support Services, police officer-involved domestic violence is 4x that of the national average. The National Center for Women and Policing states that 40% of police households experience some type of domestic violence, versus 10% for households with no police connections.”
As frightening as this is, I don’t think it should be shocking. The lengths that police departments go to position themselves as protectors, while trying to cover up witnessed public executions, is an indicator of the kind of trust we should be instilling in these institutions in the first place: absolutely none.
Many measures should be taken for justice. Police should have videos and audio monitoring them entire time they are on duty, subject to random and frequent review, to enact, what do they call it, quality assurance? Any and all rapes and/or sexual violence against women by police officers should also be prosecuted as hate crimes. Male violence against women are hate crimes. Enact measures to ensure the safety of victims, regardless of status. And finally: guarantee immediate termination of any officer who is caught in possession of ‘pornography’ which depicts violence against women in any form. Place such measure completely within job requirements at all stages.
We will follow these 12 women allegedly raped by police officer Daniel Holtzclaw in their fight for justice. Let us all remind them that we believe victims, because we know that they usually are not believed.