I thought I was happy about Daniel Holtzclaw’s verdict last night. But I soon realized that I really wasn’t.
Locking him up for a lifetime is a just a Band-Aid on a deep, festering wound. It isn’t necessarily doing right by his victims on their own terms of justice. It’s just executing justice in a way that’s been pre-determined by our nation’s laws. More than that, it doesn’t take away from the traumatic things these women experienced, regardless of how many jokes we want to crack about Holtzclaw potentially being raped himself by another inmate once he goes to jail.
Still, I thank the women who made charges against Holtzclaw, as well as all people who have testified about their own experiences of rape and sexual assault. They blaze the paths for women like me to speak our truths on sexual violence and to call rape exactly what it is—even when it terrifies us or makes us ashamed to do so. They show us how powerful we can be when we decide not to suffer in silence.
There are certain days when I truly hate the career that I’ve chosen for myself.
I don’t hate my job, or where I work. But I resent my writing some days. It forces me to read and write stories that often detail the murders and assaults of women and Black people, people just like me and those that I love. There is an inherent trauma to journalism that we don’t acknowledge enough, and it’s an internal struggle to show up each day to get the job done.
Doing news coverage on the Daniel Holtzclaw case is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It was a fight to sit at my desk and read his victims’ stories, only to have to regurgitate them back to you, our beautiful readers, afterward. Reading their graphic testimonies made me feel dirty and ashamed. I still vividly remember the scenes they described of being forced near bus lots, abandoned buildings and even in their own homes. I hid a lot of tears and blocked a lot of triggers in my mind as I sat at my desk to follow through on the writing I’d volunteered to do.
So it hit me like a subway train to be confronted with last night’s public dialogue on the rapes of Black women when the hashtag, #Holtzclawtrial, began trending on Twitter. At first, I danced and exclaimed in the street as I watched a livestream of Holtzclaw’s verdict being read from my iPhone during my nighttime commute. I tweeted, emailed and texted my friends enthusiastically about it, too. I didn’t have faith in the jury to do what we all wanted and needed it to do.
But when I sat down with my laptop on the Metro North to write how happy I was about the news, I started to cry. Not cry—weep. And I didn’t just weep for Holtzclaw’s victims. I wept for every woman who was forced and made to feel small, hollow and invisible. I wept for every woman who is scared or ridiculed out of vocalizing her pain. I wept for every woman that’s been neglected and compromised or made to feel unworthy of love, respect and affection.
More than anything, I wept because I was furious at Holtzclaw for making me feel the shame of my own sexual trauma and dysfunction. I’ve learned that rape can be carried out by strange men with the intent to victimize others, as well as men that we trust, who are too intent upon their own satisfaction to care about what their partners are comfortable with.
Upon hearing the verdict, a lot of people have argued that mainstream media didn’t pay enough attention to the Holtzclaw trial and that they haven’t made it enough of a priority in national news coverage. I fully agree with that. But I’m not so concerned with what the mainstream is doing right now. We all know that they’ve failed us many times in the past. On top of that, we no longer need mainstream media to inform millions of our fellow Americans on the news stories that are important. Blogs and social media gives us the tools to do that ourselves now, and eventually bigger outlets will have to catch up with us in order to stay relevant.
We made the Holtzclaw rape victims visible. We should be proud of that. They were brave enough to come forward with their testimonies and we were the ones who lifted them up, ensuring them that their words and their hurt matter. At this point, I’d rather us cultivate our own stories and audiences with intention than bemoan the fact that mainstream media won’t do it for us.
I pray that the women of Holtzclaw’s trial get the acknowledgment and respect they deserve as we continue to fight and document the stories of the Black Lives Matter Movement. This is a historical moment, and we need to remember them and celebrate them as the heroes that they are.