On Tuesday, Tyler Media posted an electronic billboard on behalf of CRTV.com, featuring the image of disgraced former police officer and convicted rapist Daniel Holtzclaw, and posing the question “WHAT IF HE DIDN’T DO IT?” The billboard was located at I-44 and Kelley, on Oklahoma City’s east side.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the height of white privilege.
In case you have been living under a rock, in December 2015, not even one full year ago, Daniel Ken Holtzclaw was tried and convicted of 18 of 36 charges, including multiple counts of rape, sexual battery, forcible oral sodomy and other charges. These were crimes committed against numerous Black women, on Oklahoma City’s east side, where the aforementioned billboard was shamelessly placed with no regard for these women. He was sentenced to a total of 263 years in prison for his crimes. He is a convicted serial rapist.
In the criminal justice system, an individual is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Holtzclaw was proven guilty. As sin.
Still, we are fully aware that one can certainly file appeals to a conviction until all such appeals have been exhausted. Holtzclaw himself has filed his fourth (and final) appeal extension, albeit to no avail. A person arguing his or her innocence after a conviction, no matter how convincing the evidence, is certainly nothing new or unusual. Prisons are full of convicts who “didn’t do it” if you ask them, or their families, friends or supporters. Whites don’t have a monopoly on denial. That’s not where privilege comes into play.
To understand how the whole billboard fiasco smacks of white privilege, one needs only ask one question:
What if Daniel Holtzclaw were Black, and his victims were White?
Let’s disregard the more likely scenario that a Black Daniel Holtzclaw would be lynched in the streets. Yes, today. Have you seen what’s going on in our country lately? But ignore that and pretend a Black Holtzclaw would survive. Imagine, if you can, the image of a convicted Black serial rapist, a former police officer no less, crying, looming several times larger than life over the predominantly White community where most of his victims live. Imagine that this image is overlaid with the question/caption “WHAT IF HE DIDN’T DO IT?”
The community would be outraged. Heads would roll. But then again, such a scenario would never occur. Never, ever. Do you understand that?
The “IT” in “WHAT IF HE DIDN’T DO IT?” is particularly telling, with regard to privilege. What if he didn’t do WHAT??? It’s not just ”IT.” It’s “RAPE.” Don’t sugarcoat it. Everyone knows what Holtzclaw did. The rapes he was charged with are no longer allegations. He argued in a court of law that “he didn’t do it.” He lost. As a result, he was found guilty by an all White jury of his peers and sentenced to more than two and a half centuries in the penitentiary. He is more than welcome to try to appeal his way out of that sentence, which he has attempted, but there is no way in hell he should be allowed to violate his victims all over again by forcing them to view his image looming menacingly over the same streets they could not safely walk or drive without being intimidated, objectified, degraded and assaulted for his sick pleasure.
Still, the question itself is not where the privilege lies. The privilege lies in being able to conveniently ignore the elephant in the room.
Brian Bates, the private investigator of Holtzclaw’s defense team, in an interview with Newschannel 4, stated “this billboard didn’t claim Daniel was innocent. This billboard didn’t accuse the accusers of being liars, drug addicts, of any of those things. It simply asked a question… what if he didn’t do it?”
That statement couldn’t be more wrong, not to mention narcissistic and dismissive. The “accusers” are no longer merely accusers. With Holtzclaw’s guilty verdict, they became proven victims of sexual assault in the eyes of the law. Not only that, but “this billboard” did indeed accuse them of being liars, drug addicts, and everything Holtzclaw’s defense team tried to paint them to be, all over again. It dismissed these women’s hard fought vindication - which often included them defending their own character as though they were on trial instead of Daniel Holtzclaw – as if such vindication never even took place. How did it do such a thing? It reopened the wounds of an entire community that is still suffering and trying to heal, by conveniently ignoring the impact on our community, our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, of failing to first ask the question…
“WHAT IF HE DID DO IT?”
WHAT IF DANIEL HOLTZCLAW DID RAPE THOSE WOMEN? If, as Brian Bates stated, we’re just asking questions, then why not ask that one? That would certainly seem to be the responsible thing to do before plastering his image over his old hunting ground, where these women reside, no? If he did, how messed up is that for them? White privilege gets to conveniently ignore such trivial details, quietly undo their actions later, and chalk it up to not making the best decision. No harm, no foul.
Wrong. Big harm. Big foul.
If he did “do it”, as a jury decided and a judge agreed, then what impact does this billboard’s mocking of justice have on the women who suffered at his hands? The court’s decision cannot be overturned by a billboard. The only real impact it can have is to further divide a city that is already divided and, more drastically, to further agitate the still open wounds of a community that has not had an opportunity to fully heal. White privilege allows that to be done to Black folks on a regular basis. It also allows companies like Tyler Media to simply remove such insensitive, insulting propaganda without so much as an apology, and with little regard for the pain and suffering caused by its actions. It’s not merely about him. It’s about Black women not being treated as if their lives matter too.
If a Black police officer was even ACCUSED of raping ONE White woman, it is unimaginable that the woman would be subjected to his larger-than-life image posted on a billboard prominently displayed near her home, with the caption “WHAT IF HE DIDN’T DO IT?” Yet a White police officer was CONVICTED of raping SEVERAL Black women, and such an image is allowed to go up as a banner over our entire community, and taken down without so much as an apology.
And that, my friends, is White privilege at its best.
That ain’t right.