Editor’s note: This article was originally published on faithfullymagazine.com in December 2015 but was lost due to a database error. It was recovered and republished on June 8, 2019.
An Oklahoma City pastor who helped organize support for survivors of ex-police officer Daniel Holtzclaw’s sex crimes said he was disappointed that some churches were reluctant to openly stand with the 13 Black women in court. The women, including one who was 17 when she was raped on her mother’s front porch, did not fit “the profile,” he claimed.
Holtzclaw, 29, bawled in court when the jury’s verdicts on his 36 charges were announced after four days of deliberation. The half-White, half-Japanese fired police officer was convicted of 18 charges, including sexual battery, forcible oral sodomy, first-degree rape, and procuring lewd exhibition, all committed while on duty. Facing life in prison, Holtzclaw was scheduled to return to court for sentencing January 21.
Although he was at home when the verdicts were announced, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr., pastor of East Sixth Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), had been a fixture in the Oklahoma County courtroom during the weeks-long trial.
“One of the young ladies had been attending my church. So I was kind of working with her family, kind of working behind the scenes,” said Jackson, whose church is about two miles from the Oklahoma County Courthouse.
He explained that he was motivated to get more involved in the case when Holtzclaw twice violated the terms of his bond, which had been reduced from $5 million to $500,000.
He invited OKC Artists for Justice leaders, “a couple of young sisters who were on this thing from the very beginning,” to address a meeting at his church to explain how members could support them.
“But when I really got involved, none of the churches [were] stepping up,” said Jackson. “A lot of them were not stepping up because some of these women did not fit the profile for them. Some of them were working women, some of them had cases. But I don’t care what the situation was. That did not warrant people abandoning them during this time. They did not give anybody permission to rape them. So I said we got to do better.”
Jackson, an Oklahoma City resident for 26 years, said he thought it was especially important for the women to see other African-American faces during their testimonies before the all-White jury.
“When nobody else was standing up, we said, ‘OK, we’re gonna organize and get people down there in shifts,” he said. They used Facebook to recruit and inform supporters who wanted to be inside the courtroom.
In addition to supporters sitting in the courtroom’s gallery, there were protesters’ outside whose chants of “I want life” and “we believe you” could be heard inside the building.
“Once people saw us out there, then people began to ask ‘Well, where’s your pastor?’ And they were embarrassed before they finally got [involved]. It’s a shame you have to shame people to do what is self-evident,” said Jackson.
“You try to pick and choose who you’re gonna stand up for, I missed that part. I’ve read most of the Bible, but I missed that part,” he said.
“If we’re not standing with the least of these, then I think we miss the gospel anyway,” Jackson added. “If you can’t stand with Black women Monday through Saturday, why would they then come [into] your congregation on Sunday?”
Race and class were inescapable factors in Holtzclaw’s case, and some observers questioned how an all-White jury was chosen to decide his fate. Oklahoma County is predominantly White (65 percent) with Blacks and Hispanics accounting for about 30 percent of the population. Prosecutors accused Holtzclaw of thinking “no one would believe” his mostly poor and Black victims and that “no one would care.” Holtzclaw’s defense attorney questioned his accusers’ credibility, specifically citing some of their drug and alcohol use and criminal histories.
Only one woman, a 57-year-old with no criminal record and who did not live in the neighborhood where Holtzclaw found his other victims, reported her encounter to the police.
“I didn’t call them,” one woman said, when asked why she did not do likewise. “I didn’t think anyone would believe the allegations that I was making.” Instead, after what she said were three separate encounters with Holtzclaw, she decided to move.
“Because I didn’t think that no one would believe me. I feel like all police will work together and I was scared,” said another, who was high on drugs and handcuffed to a hospital bed when Holtzclaw allegedly groped her genitalia.
A 52-year-old survivor testified that she initially thought to call the police.
“But then I thought, then again, you know, who are they going to believe? It’s my word against his because I’m a woman and, you know, like I said, he’s a police officer. So I just left it alone and just prayed that I never saw this man again, run into him again, you know,” she said.
Pastor Jackson said he hoped seeing supporters at the courthouse throughout the trial made a difference to the women.
“These sisters felt like they had no [recourse], and then there were some in the community who, because of their past, they would only confirm their worst fears — that we don’t care about you,” said Jackson. “What has happened though, is that they have seen visibly that there are so many who care.”