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Is Daniel Holtzclaw's Sentencing a Victory for the Black Lives Matter Movement?

The former Oklahoma City police officer was sentenced to 263 years in prison for sexually abusing scores of black women by an all-white jury.
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A screenshot of Daniel Holtzclaw appearing at his trial on Monday, November 2, 2015. (Photo: Twitter)

A screenshot of Daniel Holtzclaw appearing at his trial on Monday, November 2, 2015. (Photo: Twitter)

Daniel Holtzclaw, the former Oklahoma City police officer convicted of raping and sexually abusing eight women, received his formal sentencing today. It's a verdict that many hope will serve as a turning point in the struggle to bring justice to black women abused by white cops.

On December 10, 2015, Holtzclaw was convicted of sexually abusing and raping eight women. He initially faced 36 charges presented by 13 women, including burglary, lewd exhibition, stalking, sexual battery, and rape. Holtzclaw was found guilty by an all-white jury on 18 of those charges; his 263 year prison sentence was confirmed today.

Holtzclaw has been described as a "serial rapist with a badge" by Benjamin Crump, the attorney representing five of the 13 accusers. Jannie Ligons, Holtzclaw's last known victim, reported him mere hours after he forced her into oral sodomy in the early morning of June 18, 2014. It was was Ligons' allegations that eventually led to Holtzclaw's arrest.

Between December 2013 and June 2014, Holtzclaw routinely coerced black women in one of Oklahoma City's poorest neighborhoods. He was assigned to the 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift, which worked in his favor, allowing him to surreptitiously prey on women who were usually just walking or driving home in the dark. His typical routine consisted of stopping women, running their names, and then interrogating them about alleged outstanding warrants before abusing and raping them.

"We hope Holtzclaw's sentencing will have some impact against an unjust system that allows anti-black violence to permeate."

The formal sentencing may be a serious landmark in the struggle to bring attention to black women who have been victims of rape and violence by white cops. Across the country, police discriminate against black women far more frequently than women of other races. In New York, a black woman is four times more likely to be stopped by police than a white woman, and twice as likely as a Latina woman. In San Francisco, that number is much higher: A black woman is 13 times more likely to be arrested than a woman of any other race.

For Black Lives Matter, Holtzclaw's verdict might serve as a possible turning point. Since the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, we have seen a considerable increase in reported stories about cops committing violence against black men. After Eric Garner was killed by police in downtown Staten Island in July 2014, protests erupted across the country, and his last words, "I can't breathe," became the rally cry for a murder that has yet to see justice.

Yet, despite significant strides made to deliver justice for black men, according to the African American Policy Forum, "black women remain invisible" in the struggle to make police brutality a public issue. Yvette Smith, Rekia Boyd, Mya Hall, and Tanisha Anderson were all unarmed black women killed by police in the last two years. Like many of their black male counterparts, their killers also walk free, but the deaths of these women have brought on much less public attention.

Black Lives Matter is working to encourage the media and public to give more recognition to police brutality against black women. The verdict today speaks to the efforts made by the movement. Jasmine Bogard, a member of the Black Lives Matter Oklahoma City chapter, believes that the sentencing will influence future cases. "It may even be a precedent-setting case," she says. Yet, Bogard also argues, "I will not be disillusioned into thinking and hoping that the result is a 'true turning point' because days, weeks, months later news articles around the states relaying instances of discrimination and hate crimes were published."

Janisha Gabriel, a member of the New York City Black Lives Matter chapter, feels similarly. "Historically, we haven't been able to rely on the sentencing of individual officers to significantly influence systemic change," she says. "We hope Holtzclaw's sentencing will have some impact against an unjust system that allows anti-black violence to permeate."